Chesapeake Bay oyster population on the rise
Chesapeake Bay oysters appear to be becoming more resistant to diseases that have harmed their populations in recent years.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is calling for Virginia and Maryland to create sanctuaries protecting approximately 40 percent of historical oyster grounds, greater funding to rebuild and restore reefs, and stepped-up efforts to prevent oyster poaching from protected reefs.
Oyster farming is becoming increasingly popular in the Chesapeake Bay and the CBF is urging Virginia and Maryland to encourage the aquaculture through training programs, fee waivers, and other incentives.
A surging aquaculture industry could produce millions in new revenue and provide many new jobs in the region.
Scientific research is suggesting that natural selection is driving increased resistance to diseases and producing hardier oysters, especially in the southern Bay. The natural disease resistance will accelerate is oysters are allowed to repopulate on protected sanctuary reefs.
Reefs can be protected Baywide over time by protecting more existing oyster bottom from harvest and rebuilding and maintaining oyster reefs that once existed decades ago but were destroyed by overharvesting or smother by siltation.
CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration and Fisheries Scientist Tommy Leggett says, "With the right help and incentives, oyster farming could really take off. That would be a win for the seafood industry, the Bay, and the Bay's wild oysters. It's where we need to be heading."
Virginia has already established retraining programs for watermen and the number of farmed oysters in the Commonwealth has jumped to nearly 10 million, with a market value of $2.8 million and total economic impact estimated at about $7 million in 2008. Experts predict that income could increase tenfold in the coming years.