Whether or not you like to eat oysters, you should have an appreciation for them if you live here in the Coastal Bend.By way of comparison, the dockside price of the oysters harvested in the Bay in the 2009-2010 season was approximately $9.5 million, $4.4 million in Maryland and $5.1 million in Virginia.
Here's why: each year, they save you and me at least $300,000 in bay water clean up.
The best part is, they work for free!
"We know that oysters can filter an enormous amount of water and make it very very clear for us, you can think of them like little mini water treatment plants," explained Texas A&M University Marine Biology Professor Jennifer Pollack.She must not have tortured the data hard enough to have come up with a number that small. Perhaps if she used the dollar per lb of nitrogen removed that farmers are being forced to make for the "Bay Diet" she could have come up with a much larger number. The costs of the Bay Diet are estimated at $25 billion (with a "b") in public money over 10 years, and much more in compliance costs.
She shared with us video of those 'mini water treatment plants' in action in Chesapeake Bay. In a very short span of time, they're able to clear the water they're in.
Pollack participated in a study that found in Copano Bay and Aransas Bay alone, they're services are worth $300,000 a year, but that amount is much higher if you consider all the water around us, she explained.Not if you count the cost of oyster restoration in the Bay, estimated to cost $2-7 billion (with a "b") for the future.
"They work for free," Pollack said.
Actually, this $300,000 figure is for Coprano and Aransas Bays (Texas), smaller than Chesapeake bay a fair amount, and should be scaled accordingly. If the Texas Bays are 1/10th the size of the Bay, the value of the oysters in the water and the value in baskets are on the same order of magnitude.
I'd love to see the "value" of oysters on the bottom be greater than the value of oysters in a bushel basket, but I don't see it as likely in the near future.
But here's a thing to try. Pay the watermen to leave the oysters in the water for the next 5 years, at the same amount of money they made harvesting them for the average of the last 10 years, discounting what boats and fuel cost them (if they aren't using them, they don't need to get paid for them). Let's find out if the Chesapeake oyster can stage a rebound and take it's historical place in the ecosystem, taking algae out of the water, and converting it to oyster biomass.