Editorial: We were wrong
Don’t write that obituary yet. We were wrong, and we are so pleased to say so.
Back in 1993, an editorial in this space was titled “R.I.P. Oysters.” We wrote of the native oyster’s demise from disease, overfishing, pollution … whatever, stating “Many a fortune has been spent trying to figure out the decline. The oyster’s demise baffles the scientific world.”
A moratorium had been proposed and naturally drew opposition from those still trying to eke out a living from public and private oyster grounds in Virginia’s waters. Those were dark days for the Virginia oyster industry. A once-profitable business, employer of thousands, had crashed. Once-productive oyster grounds were empty.
Truly the harvest was at its nadir. In 1993-94, just 35,535 bushels of oysters were taken from public and private grounds, a shadowy fraction of the high of 4,051,085 bushels in 1958-59 (in records from 1957-2014 provided by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission).
Scientists and the public refused to say die. Intensive work in cultivating disease-resistant oysters, providing new reefs, and a boom in aquaculture have caused a slow but steady recovery from that low point. The native Chesapeake oyster appears to be back. It has been unnecessary to import and plant Asian oysters in our waters, although that avenue received serious consideration for a while.
The good news is that the 2013-14 oyster harvest was 504,113 bushels, the highest total since 1987. Figures continue to climb.
Today, as was possible 50 or 60 years ago, you can look around a shoreline at low tide and see oysters again living on the bottom. It’s very likely they started as spat produced by oysters grown in aquaculture floats. Going back to the wild, they attach themselves to pilings and grow there. Disease may take them after two or three years, but they live long enough to reproduce and scatter their seed to other once-barren shores.
We salute everyone who has played a part in the oyster’s comeback, the oyster planter, the oysterman, the shucker, the packer, the shipper, and just as importantly, the scientist, the seed oyster producer, the volunteer who makes oyster reef balls, the home aquaculturist.
Sometimes, it is good to be wrong.