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Virginia Oyster Population Rebounds, Still Far Off Highs

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Oyster populations in Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake Bay have rebounded a bit.
Oyster populations in Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake Bay have rebounded a bit.

In the past one hundred years, disease and overharvesting have decimated the native oyster population. Estimates place it at .3 percent of it's population just one hundred and fifty years ago. Disease, likely introduced from abroad by ships, and overharvesting have been the main issues. In Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake Bay at least, things appear to be turning around.

"The oyster harvest has increased tenfold over the last decade," says John Bull is with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. "The diseases are still there. What has changed is that we have latched on a new series of management strategies"

Virginia has several dozen oyster sanctuaries that protect oysters permanently, and a rotational harvest plan so public oyster beds can only be harvested every few years.

"They get to repopulate before they're open for harvest again," explains Bull.

Oyster farming has increased the supply of oysters too. The population is still nowhere near the levels of even the 1960s, but some research shows the bivalves are gradually developing a certain amount of disease resistance.


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