Maryland Oyster Numbers Down Despite $58 Million Campaign


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
June 1, 2008

A government campaign that has spent $58 million since 1994 to bring oysters back to Chesapeake Bay has resulted in fewer oysters in the bay and fewer oystermen trying to catch them.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that oyster numbers had declined about 20 percent since 1994. Watermen have left the business as harvests have declined. More than 2,000 watermen harvested oysters in Maryland in the 1980s; from 2002 to 2006 the average number of watermen was about 530.

Scientists and activists say the campaign's failure could cause the whole Chesapeake to struggle, missing a species that was vital to its ecosystem.

However, officials leading the program defend their work, including the creation of new oyster habitats, saying that uncontrollable factors such as disease are destroying the oyster stock.

"I wouldn't use the word 'failure.' We obviously have not achieved the restoration response that we had hoped for," Thomas O'Connell, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' fisheries service, told the Washington Post today. "Every year we have learned to do it better. But there is no oyster restoration [instruction] book out there."

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