By Sabri Ben-Achour
Oysters were once so plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay that they posed a navigation hazard; today they are at 1 percent of those levels. Now, the State of Maryland has a new plan to bring them back.
At the Annapolis Maritime Museum, which used to be an oyster packing house, someone has brought in two oyster shells: one is from last year, it’s about 3 inches long. The other is from the 1950’s, it’s 8 inches long. Oysters don’t survive to get that big in the Bay anymore; pollution, sediment, and disease take their toll.
Pushed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the state is set to try something that’s been talked about for over a century but never implemented: large sanctuaries.
Twenty-five percent of the bay will become off limits to harvest, essentially to buy the oysters time.
"We can’t tell you this is a sure shot," says O'Malley. "We can tell you, it’s our only shot."
Don Boesch is president of the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Maryland. He says oysters are beginning, just a little, to show signs of disease resistance.
"We need to have large enough areas where we can let some of the surviving oysters live to reproduce without harvesting them," he says.
The state continues to negotiate with watermen, promising $4.5 million to help them shift to aquaculture.