In Todays Oyster Wars, Give Imports a Chance
Those tales from yesteryear about Chesapeake Bay oysters are getting harder to take.
The multimillion-bushel harvests. Oyster bars sprawling just beneath the surface like underwater mountains rising up to challenge ships. Clean, clear water thanks to the miraculous flushing ability of billions of healthy mollusks.
These days, nearly every oyster story is a tale of woe despite the dedication of many groups and individuals and all the government money invested to bring our native oyster back.
Thats why we agree with those calling for testing in Maryland to determine if the Asian oyster might be a savior waiting in the wings.
In this issue of Bay Weekly, you will find a carefully researched feature by editor Sandra Martin examining the full-throated debate thats suddenly all around us.
This debate has its roots in Virginia, where seafood processors aligned with scientists and state officials want to move boldly forward with testing of the Asian oyster in hopes of farming them in Chesapeake Bay. Tests so far have showed that these oysters resist Dermo and MSX, the diseases that have ravaged Bay oysters. As a bonus, they grow more swiftly than native oysters, reaching harvest size in about nine months.
Maryland is wary, which is understandable given Virginias history of shortcoming as a steward of the Bay. Maryland officials, joined by environmental advocates and some fine scientists, believe that much more testing is needed.
Why the caution?
Because it is quite possible that the imported oysters could become the dominant species not just in Chesapeake Bay but more widely along the Atlantic coast. That is no small fear given our difficulties dealing with invasive species. Think starlings, kudzu and zebra mussels.
The political argument offered by skeptics holds less water. They contend that entertaining the prospects of the Asian oyster would erode the multi-state commitment to a 10-year, $100-million program to restore the Bays native oyster.
That argument reminds us of something else that swims: a red herring. We see no reason why we would give up that $100-million resolve just by moving forward aggressively to see if the Asian import can restore an oyster economy and ecology to our Bay.
Three straight years of diminished freshwater flows have enabled MSX and Dermo to spread farther up the Bay as well as to hit harder in the southerly waters where the diseases are rampant. Once again, seafood processors in Maryland the handful that remain are finding milky, unformed oysters that make shucking barely worthwhile.
We are concerned about the environmental implications of proceeding hastily without Maryland and national research. But we also are concerned about the economic implications of doing nothing slowly. Maryland, like many states, is steadily giving up its capacity to produce the goods that make a thriving economy. Without oysters, one of our most distinctive products, a whole industry will die.
Lets not let history show that too much caution let our once-thriving oyster industry slide away.