Scott Eglseder Chosen as Co-Chair for State Commission

Published in the Star Democrat By JOSH BOLLINGER [email protected] Jul 17, 2016

EASTON — Two Talbot County residents have been appointed to head the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission.

Oysters for the Bay founder Scott Eglseder and Phillips Wharf Environmental Center founder Kelley Cox were named co-chairmen of the 23-member commission, which is charged with providing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources advice on its oyster policies and practices, and helping to guide ongoing and future oyster restoration activities.

“Cox and Eglseder share my dedication to public service and are well-positioned to help lead the commission,” DNR Secretary Mark Belton said. “The department will rely on them to guide the commission’s work as we thoroughly review the state’s oyster activities and programs.”

The commission, which was reconstituted recently, is designed to have a diverse membership, with people representing different aspects of the state’s oyster industry. Its membership includes people involved in the state’s oyster community, watermen, private and public stakeholders, including academics, environmentalists and legislators.

Belton said the commission’s goal is simple — to get “more oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.”

“I am thrilled to have an opportunity to serve regarding something that I am so passionate about,” Eglseder said. “It’s just amazing.”

The commission’s first meeting was Monday, July 11. Belton gave the commission its charge and mission, and briefed it on the upcoming five-year oyster management review report.

Eglseder described the room as energetic, filled with people who have a lot of common sense about the oyster industry.

Eglseder started Oysters for the Bay, a nonprofit that organizes backyard dock oyster plantings — in an effort to help nudge along oyster restoration, but on a smaller scale — with Talbot County residents through the Marylanders Grow Oysters Program. He said his passion about oysters stems from living in Talbot County throughout his childhood in the late 1960s and ‘70s.

“I remember the abundance of how things used to be — all the seagrasses, all the crabs, all the fish,” he said. “Over the next several decades, I saw the grasses go away and the abundance dramatically reduce. I’ve always had it as a dream of mine to do something that would help to make things the way that they used to be.”

With the regional movement to clean up pollution in the Chesapeake Bay afoot, and results starting to appear, Eglseder is hopeful the collective efforts of different sectors will pay off.

“We appear to be headed in that direction,” he said. “It’s not very often in life you can actually take things back to the way it used to be.”

It’s Eglseder’s first time on the Oyster Advisory Commission, but Cox is not new to the group.

Cox was on the commission during its last manifestation. This is, however, her first time co-chairing it.

Cox is a Tilghman Island native who founded Phillips Wharf Environmental Center.

She is a trained marine biologist with a degree from Salisbury University, a Certified Instructor of Project WET and has experience in aquaculture and aquarium maintenance, as well as Chesapeake Bay research, according to PWEC. She’s also involved in numerous regional programs and was named the 2014 Robert Finton Maryland Environmental Educator of the Year Award from Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

Located on Tilghman Island, an area of Talbot County with a strong history rooted in the seafood industry, PWEC is a nonprofit that aims to provide a hands-on experience with the Bay’s environmental resources and is a place where people can learn about the Bay’s watermen.

“Our mission is nothing short of saving our precious Chesapeake Bay as a natural resource and as a source of healthy seafood and productive jobs for our residents along its shores,” PWEC’s website states. “It is through our many programs that we can help others understand how the daily decisions we make each day can impact the Bay and its health and well-being.”

PWEC is in the middle of a $5 million capital campaign to fund the construction of a new education and oyster aquaculture training center. Once complete, the training center is planned to house expanded aquaculture programs, state-of-the-art educational displays and classrooms for its job training program, according to the organization.

There are other Eastern Shore residents who have been appointed to the newly reconstituted Oyster Advisory Commission. They include Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot; Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore; Sen. Jim Mathias, R-38-Lower Shore; Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian; Talbot County waterman Jeff Harrison; Dorchester County waterman Ben Parks; and Aubrey Vincent of Lindy’s Seafood in Woolford.

DNR is drafting a five-year oyster management review report, which will focus on oyster sanctuaries, public shellfish fishery areas and aquaculture.

The report will present available data on the three management areas and provide options for additional action, activity and research, according to DNR. It is being reviewed by a panel of independent consultants and is scheduled to be released at the end of the month. The report will incorporate data from the department’s annual oyster survey.

“While five years does not provide enough time to rate the complete effectiveness or success of the state’s oyster program, the report will spur an open and public conversation about the current plan and its future direction” Belton said. “It is my sincere hope that the newly-comprised commission will study the report and provide detailed recommendations for my consideration.”