The 2015-2016 oyster harvest season kicks off today in Maryland. The six-month season runs from Oct. 1 through March 31.

“The cooling weather signals the gradual transition from harvesting blue crabs to oysters, and reminds us how fortunate we are in Maryland to have these resources,” Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “It also signals that we have the duty and responsibility to protect this Chesapeake Bay tradition for future generations by being good stewards.”

Maryland had 1,134 licensed oyster harvesters last season. A similar number is expected this year. For the first month of the season, only hand tonging, patent tonging and diving are permitted. Power and sail dredging begin Nov. 1, when harvest activity rises dramatically.

Maryland’s watermen harvested a total of 393,588 bushels with a dockside value of $17.3 million in 2014-2015 ─ the second highest total in at least 15 years due to healthy oyster reproduction in 2010 and 2012. The 2014 Fall Oyster Survey indicated that the oyster population is continuing to hold steady, with a biomass index ─ a combined measure of oyster abundance and size ─ more than doubling since 2010 to reach near its highest point since this type of monitoring began in 1993.

However, due to reduced oyster reproduction in recent years, the harvest will likely see a decline this season.

In order to protect this resource, the men and women of the Natural Resources Police will employ water patrols, aerial and radar surveillance, and inspection of wholesale and retail establishments. Violators will have their cases heard in district court before a judge well-versed in natural resources law.

Last year, officers wrote 281 citations for oyster violations ranging from possessing undersized oysters to poaching oysters in protected sanctuaries.