Moratorium on Senseless Cownose Ray Killing Contests – Maryland SB 143 and HB 213

Maryland Bills: SB 143 and HB 213

Each year, cownose rays migrate annually from Florida waters to the Chesapeake Bay to give birth. Unfortunately, for years, killing contests targeting these gentle animals were legal in Maryland.

In killing contests, a participant shoots the ray, then drags the still-living animal onto the boat where she is either clubbed to death or left to suffocate. Pregnant rays and newborn pups are frequently killed as well. Disturbing video footage demonstrates how senseless these competitions are – not even the contestants consume them. Instead, participants dump the rays back into the water or into dumpsters.

In 2017, Governor Hogan signed into law a temporary moratorium on killing contests, instructing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop a plan to protect the species’ long-term survival by 2018. However, the department failed to create a plan, and the law is set to expire on July 1, 2019. SB 143/HB 213 extends the moratorium on killing contests until the DNR releases a plan.

Proponents of killing contests claim that killing cownose rays benefits oysters, blaming rays for diminishing oyster harvests. Scientists, including the National Aquarium in Baltimore, assert the opposite – cownose rays actually play an important role in Chesapeake Bay ecology. Reducing their population threatens the overall health of the Bay. A research paper from a scientist at Florida State explains that disease, overharvesting, over-sedimentation, and habitat loss are the true culprits for a declining oyster population.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund supported the 2017 moratorium as a member of the Save the Rays coalition. With the moratorium expiring soon, we renew our call to Maryland legislators to protect cownose rays from these contests.