A proposal to temporarily ban sport hunting of cownose rays in the Chesapeake Bay is one signature away from becoming law.
The Maryland Senate yesterday passed a bill placing a moratorium on the controversial contests that will last until July 1, 2019. In the meantime, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources will be required to prepare the state’s first fisheries management plan for the migratory cownose ray population. The plan will be due by Dec. 31, 2018.
Animal rights advocates cheered the Senate’s 44-2 vote in favor of the new protections for the sea creatures.
“The Humane Society of the United States and our Maryland supporters are elated that the General Assembly placed a moratorium on cruel and wasteful cownose ray killing contests,” said Emily Hovermale, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement.
Every summer, hunters descend on the bay for cownose ray killing contests, seeing who can shoot the biggest one with a bow and arrow, oftentimes for cash prizes. Those who support the contests say they help keep the ray populations at bay when they come to the Chesapeake Bay to mate between May and October.
“They are very detrimental to the seafood industry,” Maryland Watermen’s Association president Robert T. Brown previously told Baltimore Fishbowl. “They kill a lot of oysters [and] clams. They destroy our grass beds, which help filter the water for submerged aquatic vegetation and give small fish a place to hide.”
However, science has said otherwise (except for the point about fishes’ hiding spots). Research has shown oyster numbers declined well before cownose rays began seasonally coming in droves to the bay, and scientists at a 2015 symposium on the topic here in Baltimore concluded the rays aren’t necessarily to blame for the decline, even though they do enjoy eating oysters.
The Humane Society of the United States worked with legislators this year to draft a proposal to ban the contests for good. However, it was amended on the Senate floor to cut that forever ban to a moratorium lasting through June of 2018. The Maryland Senate passed the bill unanimously in February.
The House of Delegates then passed a different version, leaving legislators from both houses to work out a compromise measure. In the end, they crafted a law that would extend that moratorium by another year, to July of 2019. The Senate passed the amended bill yesterday.
While some hunters protested banning their contests, lawmakers seemed to be in agreement about the practice, save for the two who voted against the bill. Four senators co-sponsored the original Senate bill, while 18 legislators co-sponsored the House of Delegates’ bill.
The measure now needs Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature to become law. It will take effect immediately as soon as he signs it.
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