Officers from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are embarking on a poster campaign to minimise the activities of poachers at several designated oyster sanctuaries along the Choptank River.

The sanctuaries were created as part of a programme to rebuild the oyster reefs that were once common along the bay and last year alone, project costs totalled nearly US$4m. 10% of the oysters are designated as protected from commercial farming to ensure a constant supply, and local government has pledged US$25m to the scheme, which aims to increase the oyster population ten-fold over the next decade.

Earlier this year, divers discovered that 800 bushels of oysters were missing from the sanctuary, and many reefs were picked clean. Investigations into the culprits have so far proved inconclusive, however, and spokesman John Surrick revealed that while it’s “a little thing in terms of the overall harvest, which last year was about 383,000 bushels, however, it’s significant in terms of its impact on our research.”

The Maryland Fisheries chief, Eric Schwaab, believes that it is impossible that whoever took the oysters did not know that the area was a protected sanctuary. He commented that officials have met with countless local fishermen to inform them of the project.

Schwaab hopes, however, that a series of signs to reinforce the message may draw more attention to the off-limits role of the area and then poaching can no longer be blamed on confusion. The scheme should also allow independent invigilators to enforce a series of increasingly severe penalties for poaching.