LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — The Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has more than doubled since 2010, and has reached its highest point since monitoring began in 1985, according to the 2013 Fall Oyster Survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“The upswing was driven by high oyster survival over the past few years as well as strong reproduction in 2010 and 2012,” according to DNR’s blog.
DNR Secretary Joe Gill says he is now “cautiously optimistic a sustainable oyster population can once again play a vital role in the bay’s ecosystem and Maryland’s economy.”
In 2011, researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science concluded that Maryland’s oyster population was just a fraction of a percent of its historic abundance in the early 1800s.
The decline is attributed mostly to heavy fishing, oyster disease and the depletion of habitats. In just the last 30 years, the amount of suitable oyster habitat in the Chesapeake has declined from 200,000 acres to 36,000 acres ─ and Maryland’s oyster harvest fell from about 1.5 million bushels a year to an average of 142,000.
Preliminary harvest reports for the past season have already surpassed 400,000 bushels, Gill says.
Under Maryland’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, its network of protected oyster sanctuaries has increased from 9 percent to 24 percent of the bay’s remaining quality habitat areas. The state also planted a national record 1.25 billion native spat (baby oysters) in Maryland last year.
This good oyster news comes just days after DNR reported that the number of harvestable blue crabs in the bay has decreased significantly since last year.