No Shanghai Oysters on Maryland Menu Yet
We’ve had a bit of a problem understanding the hellfire hurry to plant Asian oysters in Chesapeake Bay.
Ecologists say introducing ariakensis would alter the balance in the Bay and could well snuff out any hope that the native oyster, virginica, could rebound. No less an authority than the National Academies of Science concluded that five to seven years of research would be needed to make sure we don’t regret introducing another invasive species. Last month, a Johns Hopkins study said that the Asian oysters could pose a health threat because pathogens that cause intestinal illness hang on longer in them than in native oysters.
So we weren’t the only ones feeling relief when the Ehrlich administration, which aimed to plant Asian imports a year ago, announced last week that it was delaying its decision for another year.
“We were overly optimistic in what we could get done in a time period,” the Department of Natural Resources’ Mike Slattery was quoted as saying.
Given Virginia’s oyster decline, it’s easy to see why the Virginia Seafood Council, a trade association, is pushing hard to plant the Asian strain. They want to replenish a fishery devastated by disease and commercial pressure. The Chinese natives have demonstrated resistance to MSX and Dermo, and as a bonus, they grow faster than our natives.
But we’re hopeful that neither Maryland nor Virginia proceeds with abandon.
In Maryland, we’re in a gubernatorial election season when Chesapeake Bay issues will be thoroughly discussed. Virginia worries us more, because resource decisions there impact us profoundly.
Just look at Virginia’s continued willingness to allow a Texas company to harvest thousands of tons of menhaden with factory trawlers aided by spotter planes. Like oysters, those oily little menhaden are a Bay filter as well as the main course in the diet of stripers and sport fish in Maryland.
The federal government had to step in to persuade Virginia to reduce the scope of a pilot project to plant more than one million sterilized Asian oysters around the Virginia portion of the Bay.
Meanwhile, there are signs that predictions of the native oyster’s death are premature. In Virginia, along the Lynnhaven River, scientists recently discovered millions of native oysters in dense colonies thriving on rip-rap.
Likewise, determined entrepreneurs report that native oysters want to grow, given the right conditions. On Virginia’s Rappahannock River, Capt. Bob Jensen is raising native oysters on his trademarked system of man-made, removable reefs. In Maryland, Richard Pelz harvests bumper crops of native oysters farmed on floating reefs.
Both are thinking on a big scale of the future of the Bay. And they’re proving the point mostly with money they’ve raised themselves without the big federal bucks spent on projects that so far haven’t worked, like restoring reefs with native shell and spreading out banquets of young oysters for cownose rays.