RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia watermen and aquaculture operators harvested 460,000 bushels of oysters in 2012-13, the largest catch since 1987, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Monday

The harvest was 60 percent greater than the previous year, with “dramatically increased” yields from the state’s rapidly expanding commercial aquaculture operations, the state reported.

Of the total harvest, 149,000 bushels were taken from public oyster grounds and 257,000 from privately leased grounds.

McDonnell credited his administration’s efforts to revive the state’s oyster industry. It includes $2 million for oyster restoration in the current state budget.

“This is gratifying news, even better than I’d hoped,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Good management has allowed us to put Virginia’s exceptional oysters on dinner plates around the world, creating good jobs and generating new revenue for the state.”

The Virginia harvest even surprised the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which had projected 320,000 bushels. Commissioner Jack Travelstead said he expects the upward trend to continue.

“This year’s oyster season opened last month and the initial reports we’re hearing indicate we’re off to a very good start,” he said.

Oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries remain at a fraction of the historic highs achieved decades ago. Two diseases and pollution have taken a terrible toll on one of the bay’s signature catches, reducing hard shells to 1 percent of historic highs.

Still, there are signs the hard shell is on the rebound.

In 2001, Virginia’s oyster harvest totaled only 23,000 bushels with a dockside value of $575,000. The dockside value for the 1012-13 catch was $16.2 million.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley launched the Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan with the aim of rejuvenating the state’s oyster population.

The plan included a variety of measures, including an increase in oyster hatchery production and an oyster growing program.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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