Friday, October 9, 2015

Oyster Seasons Opens with Doubts

Down year seen for Maryland oysters
Patent Tonging Oysters in the Patuxent

Watermen dredging the muddy bottom of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries for oysters may not haul in the bounty that some recent years have produced, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources cautions as a new season gets underway.

“We’ve had good harvests the last couple years," said Chris Judy, the department's shellfish division director. But “we will no longer enjoy the spotlight on our oysters because other oysters are going to enter the market in a stronger way this year.”

The season kicked off Oct. 1, as it always does, but largely in name only. The same nor'easter that chewed at Delmarva's beaches and rained out a weekend of activities at the beginning of the month kept most watermen off the water. But they were out in force after the skies cleared.

“It looks like we got the whole state of Maryland working on one bar off Tangier Island," said Greg Price, a waterman based out of Chance in Somerset County. "I counted 55 boats this morning."
. . .
Last season's haul came to more than 393,000 bushels of oysters, representing a dockside value of $17.3 million, state officials say. It was second only to the previous season as the largest catch in 15 years.

The industry's good fortune those two years was a direct result of strong oyster reproduction in 2010 and 2012, Judy said. They were the most successful years for baby oysters, also known as spats, dating to 1998, when the state started keeping track.
Spat is both singular and plural, thanks you, layers of editors and fact checkers.
Since oysters take three or four years to mature, watermen were able to reap the benefits over the past couple years. But sharp declines in reproduction in 2013 and 2014 don't augur well for this year's harvest or those over the next couple years at least.
Which is why I don't ordinarily get excited at good news about Chesapeake Bay resources. Wait 5-10 years and see if the pattern is repeated or if it was just a good year for random, usually weather related reasons.

As far as oysters, I still continue to insist that the best plan would be to stop fishing for "wild" oysters for 5-10 years, and find out if they are still capable of succeeding in the Bay.

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