Virginia begins historic oyster replenishment effort
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) is preparing to embark on the largest state-funded oyster replenishment initiative in state history thanks to a record $2 million appropriated in the budget by Governor Robert F. McDonnell and the Virginia General Assembly, according to VMRC public relations director John Bull.
“This historic investment will provide significant ecological and economic benefits, and will provide consumers with more delicious, high-quality Virginia oysters,” said Doug Domenech, Secretary of Natural Resources. “This is a win for the health of the bay, for oyster-lovers, and for our hard-pressed watermen in these difficult economic times.”
—Kim Huskey, Virginia Seafood Council
The replenishment program will begin in May and last through August, and will focus on public oyster grounds in the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers, and in the Chesapeake Bay in Pocomoke and Tangier Sounds.
Oyster replenishment involves the spreading of empty oyster shells on state-owned public oyster grounds to provide habitat so naturally occurring oyster larvae can attach to the shells during spawning and grow to form new adult oysters that will reach market size in roughly three years.
Every $1 spent by the state to plant oyster shells yields $7 in economic benefits in the form of larger harvests and increased jobs for oyster shuckers and oyster packing houses.
An anticipated one million bushels of shells will be deployed on public oyster grounds. That’s roughly one billion individual empty oyster shells, enough to fill approximately 4,000 dump trucks.
In addition to empty shells from oyster shucking houses, the initiative will also use shells dredged from fossil oyster shell deposits in the James River near Jamestown.
“This is a remarkable, and gratifying, investment that will yield a bonanza of ecological and economic benefits,” said Kim Huskey, executive director of the Virginia Seafood Council. “This will help clean the water, boost the economy, provide financial benefits to the seafood industry, and provide more world-renown Virginia oysters for our consumers.”
Over the past decade, the oyster harvest in Virginia has increased tenfold, from 23,000 bushels in 2001 to an estimated 250,000 bushels in 2012. In that time, the dockside value of the oyster harvest increased from $575,000 to more than $8.26 million. In fact, last year’s oyster harvest in Virginia was the largest since 1989.
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