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Decision on Asian oysters is expected this week

by Larry S. Chowning

A locally grown Asian or Suminoe (crassostrea arakenisis) oyster.  (Photo by Larry S. Chowning)

After a five-year study, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer officials are still undecided whether to introduce Asian or Suminoe (crassostrea arakenisis) oysters into the Chesapeake Bay. 

A final decision is expected to come this week as Col. Konysios Anninos, who heads the Corps’ Norfolk District, is waiting on a recommendation from Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Preston Bryant.

Virginia officials have been supportive of a controlled study of the oysters in state waters.

Maryland officials are opposed to any more experiments or introduction of the oyster anywhere in the bay. Asian oyster proposals took a major blow when the Virginia Seafood Council, a long proponent of introducing the Asian oyster, gave up the cause. 

The council’s executive director, Frances Porter, reported to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) in March that “we have exhausted our negotiating abilities with federal and state authorities. There will be no further crassostrea arakenisis projects conducted by Virginia Seafood Council.”

Until 1959, the Chesapeake Bay had the most productive commercial oyster beds in the United States. Then, a bacterial oyster disease known as MSX was introduced into the bay. The disease was deadly to native oysters. This along with dermo, another disease deadly to oysters, devastated the bay’s oyster fishery.

Since then, efforts have been made to revive the bay oyster fishery. Proponents of the Asian oyster have pointed to the success of the Pacific Coast oyster as a model to restore the Chesapeake oyster. Pacific oysters died out in the 1920s and, with the introduction of another species by the 1940s, they were back and competing with the bay’s oyster again.

Rufus Ruark of Shores and Ruark Seafood in Urbanna, who participated in Asian oyster growing trials, said the appearance of the meat in larger Asian oysters is not as commercially appealing as the bay’s native oyster, although the taste is similar. Shores and Ruark are growing mostly native oysters.

Asian oyster growing trials were conducted with triploid oysters, which cannot reproduce, but in 2002 the National Academies of Science raised a concern that triploid oysters may revert to a diploid state and possibly reproduce and negatively impact what’s left of the native oysters.

Since then the issue has been a political hot potato with Virginia and Maryland at odds and environmental groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation coming out against any further growing of Asian oysters in the bay.

The Corps of Engineers has been allowing experiments with the Asian oysters, with 1 million to 1.5 million oysters permitted among private growers. Currently, Virginia has about 1 million Asian oysters in Chesapeake Bay waters.

posted 04.07.2009

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