Letter: The peril of government oysters
The peril of government oysters
At first blush, the Mathews County Aquaculture Business Park and Incubator Program sounds too good to be true. A locally based, sustainable, environmentally friendly source of green jobs and opportunities to create wealth, restoring oysters to the Chesapeake Bay and paid for with somebody else’s money! It sounds so good that those providing it have effusively called for you to "Join Us!!! at a Public Meeting to explore this concept, future Grant funds will depend on your participation." How awesome! What a great idea, how could anybody object to this?
I will ignore questions of process for the time being and state that I have been motivated and found joy in some of these same thoughts—working long, cold hours in wet and dirty surroundings for little or no pay, but warmed by feelings of helping restore oysters to the Bay and keeping my Mathews County waterman’s heritage alive. I am not complaining, seeing the resurgence of a vibrant shellfish industry and having been a part of it is reward enough. However, I cannot stand by and allow it to be threatened or destroyed just so that a poorly timed and ill-conceived boondoggle can be perpetrated in order for our county to extract itself from bad business decision.
When I started the New Point Oyster Company in 1994 there were no established markets, no guidelines or how-to books. We designed and made our own equipment, seed was difficult to come by and died in its second summer, Mark Luckenbach and Mike Oesterling at VIMS were the only support staff and Jim Wesson was the sole cheerleader pushing oysters.
I viewed my competitors as friends and allies, and I still do. We are brothers in the good fight. The enemy was failure and circumstances beyond our control. Now, it is government.
The industry has grown tremendously with numerous new entrants and plentiful choices in information, support, supplies and seed which nobody worries about dying, and all kinds of government types wanting to get involved so they can take credit for this success. It is not an industry in need of help. In fact, in my opinion, we now suffer by over-production and are experiencing serious price drops that create problems for growth.
Demand for oysters is not what it used to be and an entire generation or two no longer look to oysters as a good and inexpensive protein source. The challenge we face is to grow without crashing this delicate market through over-supply. My question is why flood the market with subsidized oysters from a government oyster company?
Make no mistake, the project that is proposed is government oysters—from government oyster leases and government landing sites, to government sorting, grading, packing, shipping and marketing. If it quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, it is a duck! This is a government oyster company and inserting a straw man for appearances does not change the insidious nature of this run at free markets and free enterprise.
If public input is not merely a legal pretext, then table this project until after our election and a full public review in the light of day. Then it will die of its own weight.
New Point, Va.