Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oyster Rebound May Be Temporary

Last week I brought the good news that Maryland's oysters were enjoying a bumper crop, at least by comparison with recent years.  At the time, I urged some caution.  It seems that the folks at the Sun were reading my mind.

The good news is that Maryland's oyster catch is up; the bad is that it's unlikely to last
Could this signal a return to the oyster bounty of years past? This is where a dose of cold water, rather than a splash of Tabasco and lemon, is in order. DNR officials say it's probably a one-year fluke. Why? Because they've seen it all before.

In 1999, Maryland's harvest tripled in similar fashion because of an unusually high spat set two years earlier. It appears unusual weather deserved the credit — lower rainfall in the spring and summer of 1997 meant higher salinity in the bay and reduced the incidence of Dermo, the protozoan parasite that is deadly to oysters but completely harmless to humans.

Once the oysters born in 1997 and grown to maturity by 1999 were caught and sold, Maryland's oyster harvest numbers went back down. That's likely to happen again thanks to the 2010 spat set, which was remarkably similar to the 1997 experience.

That's not guaranteed, of course. Environmental factors could play a role again, but it's telling that the oyster rebound has been seen entirely south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, where the water is saltier, and not farther north or upstream in the rivers.
My plan; ban commercial fishing of wild oysters in Chesapeake Bay for 5 years, and see if natural production is leading to a rebound.

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