Saturday, February 5, 2011

Love 'em or hate 'em, they are great for the Chesapeake

I highly recommend that our readers spend a few minutes with Charles Cohen's recent article in Urbanite about the state of oyster farming in Maryland waters: Betting on the Half Shell.

Earlier in the week, I attended a lecture on the ecological and industry benefits of oyster economics given by Dr. Douglas W. Lipton, Associate Professor and Program Leader of Sea Grant and Sea Grant Extension Programs at the University of Maryland, and when I came across Cohen's article, which covered a large share of the topics he touched upon, I wondered if he wasn't in that classroom as well.

Here are some highlights:
  • The Chesapeake Bay oyster (Crassostrea virginica) population is declining for several reasons including the usual suspects like over-fishing, habitat destruction, poor water quality and sediment run-off, as well as two diseases harmful only to oysters (i.e. not harmful to humans): Dermo and MSX.
  • While Dermo (Perkinsus marinus) is a native pathogen, MSX is not and was brought in with pacific, non-native oysters.
  • Restoration is important not only for your palette and the net income of watermen and profits to processors and related industries, but for water quality improvements, increased fishing benefits, and even waterfront property values.
  • What is being done to aid in this restoration? Repletion. Basically, the state subsidizes the movement of baby oysters from one place - where they will grow slowly - to another place where the survivors of the move will flourish fast, clear up some of that murky water, and later be harvested. While this process seems to aid the waterman and the water, it is quite expensive and perhaps only justifiable if the oyster biomass is raised to near or above the level that provides maximum ecological benefits.

For more information, check out the video about oyster aquaculture below and tune in to: The Marc Steiner Show, WEAA 88.9 FM, on February 24th, 2011.

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