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Virginia Scallops Making A Comeback

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Virginia was once a big producer of bay scallops, but around year 1930 a disease hit the sea grass beds that were home to those shellfish, and in 1933, two big storms wiped them out. Today, scientists report early success in bringing the grass beds back, and with them, the scallops.

Bo Lusk, 38, grew up on the Eastern Shore, hearing stories about scallops.

"My grandmother would tell me how when she was a girl there were scallop houses all over the place. Lots of people depended on scallops for a living, and in '33 that all disappeared, and for the rest of her long life, she never saw a live scallop," he says.

Today, as a marine steward with the Nature Conservancy, he's working to bring them back.

The process began in 1999, collecting eel grass seeds from other areas, then planting them off the coast. Today, you'll find 4,000 acres of sea grass—the equivalent of 3,000 soccer fields—and an on-shore hatchery, where baby scallops are cultivated. Lusk and his volunteers have encountered some of their offspring as they gather sea grass seeds.

"They're really cute little guys. They've got little tentacles that come out. They've got beautiful blue eyes. Sometimes you can get them to do tricks. If you put them upside down on the bottom, they'll jump up and flip over right side up," he says.

It could be years before there are enough scallops to support any kind of industry, and the Chinese already dominate that market with scallops bred from a few dozen animals they got from the Eastern Shore. But Mark Luckenbach, who directs VIMS Eastern Shore Lab, sees a culinary niche — fresh scallops on the half shell.

"The shelf life of the scallop, once harvested, is only about two days. We're a half-a-day's drive from New York, Philadelphia, D.C.," he says.

And regardless of market potential, Bo Lusk thinks scallop restoration is a good thing for the environment. Scallops are filter feeders, so they help clean water. Sea grass stores carbon from the atmosphere, and it's nice to see nature in any form coming back.

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