Save the Bay — with Property Rights

Oysters of the world, property rights are your friend!

Same Chesapeake Bay, two different states…. and two very different fishing industries. Virginia’s fisherman are doing OK, adapting to pollution, over-fishing and oyster-killing diseases. Maryland’s are barely hanging on. Why is Virginia’s doing better? Property rights.

At least, that’s the spin of Rona Kobell, writing for the Reason Foundation in, “Privatizing the Chesapeake.” Maryland has thrown research dollars and regulations at its watermen in the hopes of reviving the oyster industry. Virginia allows its watermen to lease oyster beds, giving them an incentive to steward their precious resource.

It makes a great story, although I would like to see some solid numbers proving that Virginia’s oysters and clams are prospering while Maryland’s are not. Without question, our aquaculture industry is out-performing Maryland’s but I’d like to know how the wild critters are faring.

As an anecdotal sidelight, there is a movement among Virginia bay-front landowners to plant mini-oyster beds in the waters off their property. An acquaintance of mine, a physician in his weekday life, seeds oysters and maintains a bed as a socially beneficial hobby — he’s doing his small part to help oysters regain their former glory. Many of his neighbors are doing the same. If every landowner created oyster beds off their property, it could make a material contribution to the healing of the bay.


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20 responses to “Save the Bay — with Property Rights”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    What a bushel of oyster spat!

    You libertarian ding-dongs want to privatize everything! Could it be that Virginia’s salty Bay waters, being farther south and closer to less densely packed and industrialized shorelines, are somehow cleaner than the Maryland waters?

    Jim, do we have to listen to a constant stream of reporting from the “Reason” whatever, the AEI, CATO, The “Tradition” Institute (two years old) etc. Can’t you live a little dangerously and regurgitate someone else?

    Now that would spat we’d all enjoy!

  2. I love the way you dismiss the story out of hand. You don’t need to know the facts, all you need to know is that it came out under Reason’s imprimature and it has to be wrong. Heh, heh, tell that to Maryland. They’re a little late, but they’re following Virginia’s example. Heh, heh.

  3. planting oysters in unhealthy water won’t make it healthy… it will just kill the oysters…..

    oysters do help clean the water but the level of “dirt” has to be within a healthy ecosystem parameters.

    the trouble with the right these days is that they don’t want to believe that healthy ecosystem is “healthy” for business.

    pretty ironic… “Conservatives” was originally derived from “conservation” but now “conservatism” means rape and pillage of the environment and anyone who is not already rich.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    My Dear Mr. Bacon,
    Sorry buddy, but the regulatory arm of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and NOAA somehow isn’t just restricted to Maryland and their powers miraculously end at the Virginia line. Problem No. 1 with the Chespeake Bay Journal article.
    As for leasing beds, we’re talking about something that goes back more than a century. This may be an historic aside, but they might not be so libertarian-wonderful as made out. They led to oyster wars way back when. Private thugs sat all night with shotguns on little platforms.
    A few other little problems. Maryland tried Asian oysters? So did Virginia. Maryland tries aquaculture. So has the Old Dominion.
    So, in other words, you are trying to make a case for privatizing (leasing) that actually is ancient history. Neither you nor the author of the Bay Journal piece makes a persuasive case that somehow those damned Md. bureaucrats are so much worse than our freedom-loving Virginia ones.
    And MSX and Dermo wiped out beds in both states.
    I find it especially ironic that you boost oyster privatization while in other posts you decry the EPA and other environmental groups that are trying to clean up the Bay from non-point source, runoff pollution that has created “dead zones” in Bay waters of both states.
    And, you ignore my point that Virginia’s waters are less stressed and by chance get more refreshing salt water because of their location.
    Jimbo, the World just ain’t your Oyster on this one.

  5. Aargh, so many outrageous statements, so little time!

    I’ll just pick on one. I don’t “decry” the EPA for cleaning up non-point source runoff. To the contrary, I advocate adopting human settlement patterns with a much smaller environmental footprint. Reasonable regulation, in this case, is entirely justified.

    One more point: The issue isn’t that MSX and Dermo wiped out oyster beds in both states. The issue is where are the oyster beds recovering the quickest?

  6. Andrea Epps Avatar
    Andrea Epps

    I just read the excerpt from Boomergeddon, with Jim’s description of this bog, and I realize that this discussion represents case-in-point.
    Although a bit off topic, I thought the Gallup poll that showed 50% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana was interesting.
    I mention this only because you both make arguments I agree with, so I am doing the dodge:)

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Let’s rent a boat. Let’s go into the Bay. You will see that in Virginia waters, the ocean is much closer. That means the Virginia waters can cleanse faster. Want a drawing?

  8. Groveton Avatar

    I guess the crabs haven’t heard about the brilliance of the Clown Show.

    See the jurisdiction vs. jurisdiction comparison of blue crab harvest. Alos, note that Maryland intelligently restricts the harvest of female crabs to a much greater degree than Virginia. The key statistic is the trendline on male crabs harvested.

    However, free market loving Virginia has taken some steps. The bureaucratic, annoying, overweening, anti-free enterprise regulators in Virginia have canceled the winter crab dredge for the fourth consecutive year in an effort to breathe new life into Virginia’s crab population. Good for them.

    Now, if Greenpeace would only sink the Omega Protein Company’s Virginia based menhaden fishing fleet before that cast of half-wits manage to make menhaden extinct in the Bay.

    As a person who owns property on the Bay let me say this – If Virginia regulated the Bay the same way Maryland regulates the Bay EVERYBODY would be better off.

    As an aside, this is the conservative version of Saul Alinsky here. Jim Bacon has discovered that Maryland actually plans to go through with the bay restoration effort they promised. That will mean increased taxes for Bay clean-up. I will be paying higher taxes on my property in Maryland. You know what I think of that? GOOD. It’s abut time one of the Bay states started taking this seriously.

  9. Groveton, property rights won’t help with the blue crab. The little devils don’t stay in one place like oysters do. Leasing oyster beds is good policy… for oysters, not for crabs.

    If you really wanted to preserve crabs, though, you’d figure out some way to apply property rights to them as well. We ought to look and see how other countries have handled similar situations. I’ve heard that Icelanders have devised an ingenious property-rights solution to conserve the herring off their coast from overfishing. Might be worth a look.

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Let’s go public. I LOVE you.

  11. Groveton Avatar

    So, let’s talk property rights.

    One big problem for the oysters growing on the bottom of the Bay in MAryland (not in aquaculture oyster cages) is the voracious predation of cow nosed rays. Those nasty old rays make minced meat of an oyster bar.

    What does this have to do with property rights?

    Well, there are a lot more cow nosed rays in Maryland water these days. Because the sharks which eat the rays have been horribly overfished in Virginia waters.

    You see, while rays can prosper in the lower salinity of Maryland’s part of the Bay, sharks cannot. There are certainly occasional sharks in MAryland waters but the majority of the Bay’s sharks live in the saltier waters of Virginia.

    Virginia did finally regulate the shark fishing industry including the disgraceful practice of finning. But it happened in 2010:

    Too little. Too late.

    4,500 acres of Chesapeake Bay bottom are leased in Maryland. How much should Virginia pay to those private property owners for the destruction of their oyster beds by cow nosed rays?

    Pennsylvania is the Bay’s worst enemy. Virginia is next.

  12. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Cow nosed rays? Brilliant!

    Let’s go after the Keystone state!


  13. If Virginia regulated the Bay the same way Maryland regulates the Bay EVERYBODY would be better off.


    Ooh, Ooh, Oooh. Someone is suggesting that we use net positive social benefit as a measuring stick.

    Groveton is correct. PA is the source of the greatest damage to the bay.


    “Groveton, property rights won’t help with the blue crab.”

    Not true, other fisheries use property rights to regulate the fisheries.

  14. property rights in the context of a bay made dirty by development and fisheries threatened by too many harvesters needs some better definition.

    If all we do is to continue to exercise property rights for land development in the way we have been and anyone who wants to say that they also own “property” in the fisheries – we’ll end up with a dead bay and as typical these days lots of finger pointing and refusal to take responsibility.

  15. Groveton Avatar


    Even the most “bright green” environmentalists who write about the Bay conclude that agriculture is the single biggest polluter of the Bay. As far as I can tell, all of these environmentalists are dyed in the wool liberals who (I assume) would love to blame developers and development. But they can’t.

    Sadly, the agricultural changes necessary to clean up the Bay are relatively modest – especially for small scale farmers. However, the “my right to pollute” crowd (aka the farm lobby) will bitterly oppose any requirements for pollution abatement.

  16. Groveton – farming has DECLINED in land use over the last 100 years.

    there are hundreds of thousands of “vacant” farms in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

    farmers have asked that the Bay Computer Model be validated by actually measuring the nutrients in areas of farming as well as developed land.

    In your own area – look at the impervious surfaces and the stuff that gets put on them… from pet poo to fertilizer to pesticides to you name it.

    I support what the farmers are asking for -measurements up and down the rivers ….. and then based on that data – make decisions about what needs to be done, where, and who pays.

    the farmers have become the latest whipping boy in our societies “let’s blame someone” approach to problems.

    but common sense should tell you that farming has declined and land developed has skyrocketed and if you take a little trip in NoVa to one of your nearby creeks during a rain – you’ll see the truth.

  17. Groveton Avatar

    “Groveton – farming has DECLINED in land use over the last 100 years.”.

    Yes, LarryG – there is less food grown now because there are fewer people than there were 100 years ago.

    Sometimes I wonder about you.

    This has little to do with the number of farms. It has everything to do with the intensity of farming.

    Go visit one of Perdue’s chicken farms on the Delmarva peninsula.

    Then tell me that there are fewer farms and, therefore, less farm – based pollution.

    Farmers always criticize the measurement system because the measurement system points a very quantitative finger at them.

    Development is the second biggest problem. However, Maryland is addressing the development problem with a very broad and very expensive answer.

    The only group continuing to defile the Bay with impunity is the farming industry.

  18. how we farm has changed and yes there are few farms but more intensive farms and that should tell you all the more that in places where vacant farms exist there should not be the same problem as where there is more intensive farming going on – yet the Bay model does not show that and that’s the problem.

    Telling someone who own 1000 acres of non-intensive farming that they are responsible for cleanup – without showing them the data relative to their location on the river – is not going to work.

    we need to focus on WHERE the MEASUREMENTs actually show there are problems – not what the model says is a problem for the watershed …then equally allocated geographically or even worse arbitrarily without measurement data that validates the model prediction.

    the funny thing is that for a long time the USGS has at it’s water stations – measured nitrogen and phosphorous for many years and if you check the data at those stations – you’ll see that the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous are not uniform and in fact, do vary.

    what they’re trying to do with the model is ultimately a recipe for failure because what the farmers are going to do is get the USGS data and other data and directly challenge what the model says ….

    we’ve known that there is a problem with the model for a decade now but the folks who rely on it will not admit the truth and think they can force it on people / farmers… and all that is going to happen is more delay and ultimately a loss once the farmers prove in court that that the model is generating bogus info that does not reflect reality.

    this is my frustration with folks who say they care about the environment but instead of doing the work necessary to show the problem they want the govt to essentially force people to do what a model says.

    it’s a bad deal Groveton and you’re the kind of guy who should see this… being the skeptic you are of govt top-down “solutions” that you are anyhow.

  19. In discussing the rapidly rising bills for sanitary sewer with Fairfax County, I learned that Chesapeake Bay-related legislation at both the state and federal levels has over-allocated Bay recovery costs to residents of urban and suburban communities, while under-allocating those costs to agriculture and other rural activities.
    I am more tolerant of the Clown Show than Groveton, but I do ask what were my Clowns doing when the legislation passed. In other words, I expect legislators from rural Virginia to fight for their communities and constituents, but I sure would like legislators from Fairfax County to do the same.
    I am guessing that the local Democratic legislators are so involved with imposing government solutions to all problems that they don’t really care if their constituents get screwed in the process. “Saving the Bay is so important that if the costs are my constituents over-paying for the solution, I will gladly commit them to over-payment.” Now just convert this sentence to a generic one. “[Fill in the blank] is so important that if the costs are my constituents over-paying for the solution, I will gladly commit them to over-payment.”

  20. until you know what the actual measured nitrogen/phosphorous concentration levels are in the river where Fairfax receives and discharges… compared to what those concentrations look like upstream in farming areas and down stream of the municipal outflows – you’re not really going to ever know.

    we’re setting restrictions based on a macro level model that cannot predict actual conditions at specific locations.

    that’s a recipe for failure.

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