The Chesapeake Bay was once home to oysters beyond our wildest imagination — oyster reefs rose so high that they grazed the bottoms of boats sailing the Bay. Their meat grew so plump that those who partook required a knife and fork to cut them.
Oysters also played a key ecological role in the Chesapeake, filtering algae and providing habitat and shelter for other animals and underwater plants.
Today, the Bay stands at a difficult crossroads. Decades of overharvesting and diseases such as Dermo and MSX have left the Chesapeake’s iconic oysters in a precarious state.
With the native oyster at historic lows, scientists and policy makers are exploring ways to restore oysters to the Bay.
Reef building, establishing protected sanctuaries, and breeding for disease resistance may all be key to fostering a comeback of the Bay’s native oyster, Crassostrea virginica.
Introducing a non-native oyster is another possible solution, but a contentious one. So far the states of Maryland and Virginia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have decided not to introduce an Asian oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, to the Bay. Citing the precautionary principle, many researchers, resource managers, conservationists, and others argue that too many unknowns remain to justify the introduction of a non-native species at this time. In Maryland, an Oyster Advisory Commission has recommended a new approach to managing the native oyster that balances aquaculture, protected sanctuaries, and commercial harvest.
With the continuing pressures of disease and habitat loss, the oyster will need all the help it can get to return in large numbers to the Chesapeake.
|Maryland Sea Grant recently helped to facilitate an analysis of efforts to restore the Bay's native oyster. A 44-page report, Native Oyster
(Crassostrea virginica) Restoration in Maryland and Virginia: An Evaluation of Lessons Learned 1990-2007, summarizes the findings of this analysis and is available from our Book Store.
|This four-page report summary offers a look at the highlights of the analysis. Maryland Sea Grant Report Summary: Native Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) Restoration in Maryland and Virginia: An Evaluation of Lessons Learned 1990-2007. (pdf)|