DNR Survey Indicates Optimistic Recovery for Bay’s Oyster Population

Results from a two-month survey of Maryland waters indicate that the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population may be recovering from a two-decade long battle with parasitic diseases.  The survey conducted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found an average of 80 spat (baby oysters) in each bushel of shells dredged up from 260 locations throughout the bay and its tributaries.  As the highest count on record since 1997, it appears that Dermo and MSX, the diseases responsible for killing 58% of the bay’s oysters, are declining. The Baltimore Sun reports:

State fisheries director Tom O’Connell said the fall survey results show “some evidence that the native oyster may be establishing some disease resistance.” He said the young bivalves that were produced last year will help seed the sanctuaries the state set up last year in an attempt to rebuild the bay’s population.

The O’Malley administration expanded the network of sanctuaries placed off-limits to commercial harvest from 9 percent of the remaining oyster bars to 24 percent. It also opened up new areas of the bay for leasing by private oyster farmers.

Since last fall, 26 people have applied for 35 new leases to raise oysters, officials said. The state plans to distribute more than $2 million in startup assistance for such aquaculture ventures.

William Goldsborough, senior fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the news shows the merit of continuing to try to restore the bay’s native Eastern oyster. Two years ago, officials from Maryland and Virginia and the federal government rejected proposals to introduce disease-resistant Asian oysters in the bay, saying the risk of ecological disruption was too great.

Kennedy T. Paynter Jr., an oyster researcher with the University of Maryland, said the state survey matches his own findings in the state’s sanctuary areas.

But he cautioned that the positive trends were still too short-lived to support the conclusion that the oyster population is coming back after decades of decline. The bay’s remaining oysters have benefited from nearly 10 years of relatively rainy weather, he pointed out, which has kept the salinity of the water down and depressed the diseases.

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