Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Shucking Our Future

According to The Capital, the harvest of our bedraggled bivalve, Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern Oyster, has improved a bit this year.

"Improvement" is surely a joke in this context, when even 15 years ago, the oyster haul was more than 10 times as large. Of course, in Chesapeake country, talking about how to deal with the oyster problem is one of those political "third rails." No one wants to do anything to upset the watermen, whose historical overharvests combined with the deadly oyster diseases Dermo and MSX have nearly wiped out the Chesapeake's natural filters.

Year Bushels
1885 15 million
1920 4.6 million
1950 2.5 million
1975 2.6 million
1986 1.6 million
1990 415,000
1994 80,000
2000 380,000
2002 148,000
2003 56,000
2004 26,000
2005 32,000 bushels as of January

The Governor wants to introduce the Asian oyster (Crassostrea ariakensis), to placate his oyster harvesting base, giving almost no consideration to the potential unintended consequences of introducing yet another foreign species into the Bay. Scientists believe MSX was inadvertently introduced to the Chesapeake through the importation of a non-native oyster, Crassostrea gigas, in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, oyster expert, Chris Judy, with the Department of Natural Resources, attributes the rebound to "two straight years of wet weather", which drives down the salinity of the Bay, and helps hold off Dermo and MSX. Needless to say, it's long past time to get serious about oyster (and shad, and crab, and on and on) shortages in the Bay. Let's shut down the fishery, like we did with rockfish, redouble our restoration efforts, and keep trying to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads on the Bay. This problem didn't emerge overnight, surely it won't be solved that quickly, but it's time we started.



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