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A New Oyster for the Bay?


What's Killing the
Native Oyster?

Summary of a Field Trial

The Hatchery Connection

Crisis and Controversy

Brown prepares to lower his tongs over the side and into the Chester River - photo by Skip Brown Years of parasitic disease have left Chesapeake Bay oysters and the industry that has depended on them a faint shadow of what they once were. In 1982, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued nearly 5300 licenses to watermen who had been hauling an average of 2.5 million bushels of oysters a year from public grounds. The speculation is that harvesters this year may be lucky to bring in 50,000 bushels. Virginia watermen have been considerably worse off. Before MSX disease began killing oysters in the lower Bay in the late 1950s and Dermo in the 1980s, Virginia's private leaseholds and public grounds had yielded more than four million bushels - in 2000 and 2001, the yield has sunk to 20,000.

Many in the Bay industry feel that Crassostrea virginica, the Bay's native oyster species, is on the verge of failure, at least as far as the traditional oyster fishery goes. "This could be the year that we declare the economic extinction of the Chesapeake Bay oyster fishery," says Pete Jensen, former head of Fisheries for Maryland DNR. It is because of the inability so far to restore sustainable oyster populations or to successfully cultivate them that watermen and processors are calling for, if not demanding, introduction of a non-native species - the Suminoe or Chinese oyster Crassostrea ariakensis - that they believe will survive. Given the state of the native oyster, the question of whether or not - let alone how - to introduce a new species to the Chesapeake is one that poses complex challenges that have ecological and social implications. Read more . . .

- The Editors

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