Despite having fewer days to work, Maryland watermen harvested nearly twice as many wild oysters last season as they did the previous year, state officials report. Even so, a new study finds the state’s population of bivalves is in much better shape now than it was two years ago, with abundance up and overfishing down.Expect massive pressure from the watermen to allow higher catches next year, just to make sure the oysters can't get ahead.
As a result, state fisheries managers say they’re weighing whether to maintain catch restrictions put in place last season or relax them for the next wild harvest season, which normally begins Oct. 1.
Data presented Monday night to the Department of Natural Resources’ Oyster Advisory Commission indicates that the overall abundance of adult, market-size oysters in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay has rebounded considerably since 2018 and is now at the fifth highest level since 1999.Just for reference, a compilation of historical oyster landings. Note that even at doubled, the current "doubled" level, the current landings are a tiny fraction of what they had been during the great oyster rush of the late 1890s.
Preliminary figures indicate the wild harvest last season topped 270,000 bushels, a nearly 90% jump from the 145,000 bushels landed in the 2018–19 season. That’s a remarkable turnaround since 2018, when the first scientific assessment of the state’s oyster population warned of a fishery in decline. That study found that the number of market-size adult wild bivalves had fallen by half in the previous two decades and that half of the areas open to commercial oystering were experiencing overharvesting.
The last two years, though, tell another story. In spite of last season’s higher landings, the new data found overfishing in less than one-sixth of the areas, and it found harvest levels higher than ideal another one-sixth, but not enough to threaten sustainability of the population.Only for oysters would a doubling of the current very low population be considered grounds for raising the fishing pressure.
“Generally, the status of oysters in Maryland has improved,” said Michael Wilberg, a fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies.
The Wombat delivers Rule 5 Sunday: Park Hye-su as promised.