40 Years of Fisheries and Aquaculture
Research on a crab boat. Photographer, Michael W. Fincham

ONE FOCUS FOR MARYLAND SEA GRANT has been addressing the problems facing commercial fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay. Our research findings have helped improve management of the fisheries for oysters and blue crabs, and the University of Maryland Extension specialists have been providing the technology and training for reviving oyster aquaculture. In addition, our staff experts helped reshape the state's fisheries policies by working with the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee and the Governor's Oyster Advisory Commission. Some other highlights include:

Surprising journeys of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay

Since the 1980s, Sea Grant programs in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, have supported coordinated research projects leading to a paradigm-changing model of blue crab recruitment to Mid-Atlantic estuaries. Based initially on intensive lab experiments with different stages of blue crab larvae and extensive field sampling, the model hypothesized that larvae spawned at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay are transported offshore, to the open sea. The subsequent recruitment of larvae back to the Bay was largely regulated by a number of physical processes, including wind and ocean currents. The development of this counter-intuitive model has significantly influenced resource management decisions. In 1982, Maryland Sea Grant published the results of this multi-year project, The Blue Crab in Mid-Atlantic Bight Estuaries: A Proposed Recruitment Model. In the 2000s, field studies confirmed and refined this model, highlighting the importance of wind and density-induced current flows, rather than tidal currents as an important mechanism to drive larvae into the Chesapeake.

Raising oyster seed for Bay-wide restoration

The Horn Point Laboratory on Maryland's Eastern Shore has been the site of expanding oyster hatchery operations. Starting as a small experimental project in 1980 under the direction of Sea Grant Extension specialists, hatchery production has become a major factor in Maryland's efforts to promote sustainable restoration of the Chesapeake Bay's wild oyster populations.

Growing seaweed for water quality and profits

Scientists have been working to commercialize research findings about the potential water-quality benefits of farming oysters in combination with Gracilaria microalgae, an economically valuable seaweed. Field trials show that Gracilaria can take up nutrients created by intensive oyster cultivation, and also remove carbon dioxide and phosphorus — all of which contribute to oxygen depletion in bottom waters. The plant can then be harvested for use in feedstock and biofuels. In large-scale enterprises, growing seaweed and oysters together could also create jobs and generate additional income. Researchers have identified investors and created business plans to implement commercial production of Gracilaria in the estuary.

The science on the Eastern oyster and the blue crab

Maryland Sea Grant published two definitive resource works on the oyster and the blue crab: The Eastern Oyster: Crassostrea virginica, edited by Victor S. Kennedy, Roger I.E. Newell, and Albert F. Eble and The Blue Crab: Callinectes sapidus, edited by Victor S. Kennedy and L. Eugene Cronin. Invaluable for researchers, resource managers, and students, both books have received accolades as the most comprehensive works now available on those species.

40th Anniversary Issue
Visit Our Blogs
What's next for oyster aquaculture
A decade ago, Donald Webster could count the number of oyster farms in the state of Maryland on two hands. By Rona Kobell.
From the Water to Washington: Connecting Experiences in DC and Coastal Communities
In graduate school, I found it easy to find the impact and context of my fisheries research. By Gray Redding .
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