The most recent oyster harvest in Maryland was the biggest in decades.
Oyster season in Maryland runs from October through the end of March, and preliminary state figures show the 2021 to 2022 harvest in the Chesapeake Bay was the largest since the 1986 to 1987 season.
The Bay Journal reports that the total was about 511,000 bushels, up from 333,000 during the previous season. The final number is still being calculated.
Virginia’s harvest total isn’t out yet either, but Andrew Button with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission said annual surveys indicate the oyster population there has reached record high numbers.
Diseases like MSX and Dermo greatly impacted the wild harvest, with Maryland hitting a record low of 27,000 bushels in 2003 to 2004.
Record rainfall from 2018 to 2019 lowered the salt levels in the Bay and its tributaries, curbing oyster growth and reproduction, and even killing oysters in some places.
In response, Maryland and Virginia imposed harvest restrictions, reducing daily bushel limits. Virginia shortened its season by a month, while Maryland banned harvests on Wednesdays, reducing the workweek to four days.
Button said Virginia did not let up on any of the curbs on its wild fishery, which means that the state’s wild harvest has not grown as much as Maryland’s oyster harvest.
I arrived in Maryland to work at the Benedict Estuarine Research Lab in 1985, and almost immediately became involved in a survey of the local oyster populations. The bottom almost immediately dropped out of the populations, already at historically low numbers, due to a combination of Dermo, MSX and overfishing. I'm glad to hear they're back. But imagine how much faster they might have returned if they hadn't insisted of harvesting them all along.