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Watermen optimistic as public oyster season begins

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The public oyster season opens on October 1 and watermen throughout the area are getting ready to go to work. Capt. Jack, a 28-foot barcat from Tangier Island, was recently purchased by Shores and Ruark Seafood of Urbanna and has been converted into an oyster boat. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry Chowning

The “smokehouse door” will open on Tuesday, October 1, as several nearby public oyster grounds on the Rappahannock River will open for the season. Old time oystermen described the opening day of the oyster season, “the day the smokehouse door opens” because it provided the opportunity to make money to feed their families.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) announced in August that the public oyster season will officially open October 1, 2013 and continue through April 30, 2014.

Rappahannock River Rotation Area 4, some of which is along Middlesex shoreline, will be opened on October 1. These grounds extend west to Ball Point at the mouth of Robinson Creek, and east to the Norris Bridge. It includes Drumming Ground West and East, some of the most fertile public grounds on the Rappahannock.

Watermen Joey Williams of Remlik predicts there will be a large number of boats working the Drumming Ground. “The boys have had a real slow crabbing season and I figure a lot of watermen will be coming to the Rappahannock to try to make some money to make up for what they didn’t make in the spring and summer with crabs,” he said.

Rufus Ruark Sr. of Shores and Ruark Seafood of Remlik said his firm has purchased a new boat for the season. The new boat is a 28x10 foot barcat-style deadrise boat purchased from a Tangier Island waterman.
Shores and Ruark will work the public grounds beginning October 1, and since September 1 has been working private grounds it leases from the state.

“I think everyone is anticipating a good season with all the news we are hearing about how good things look,” said Ruark. “But we won’t know for sure until we start working.”

Oystermen will be allowed to harvest oysters with a 21-inch wide dredge and can catch 8 bushels per licensed oystermen on the boat with a limit of 24 bushels to a boat. Only three licensed watermen per boat will be allowed.

On September 24 VMRC warned oystermen they had better abide by the VMRC oyster limits. On Tuesday four oystermen, who were caught over the limit in the Rappahannock River last year, had their licenses suspended. Three watermen lost their licenses for two years and one waterman had his revoked for one year followed by a year of probation, said VMRC spokesperson John Bull.

Bull said the commission made a statement this week that it will not tolerate the poaching of state oysters. “We are hopeful that oystermen will make a good living this season and abide by the law. Everyone is anticipating a good season,” he said.

Virginia’s oyster harvest has increased tenfold over the past decade. Totals jumped from 250,000 bushels in 2011 to 320,000 last season—up 28%. The dockside value of Virginia oysters last year was $11.2 million. 

posted 09.25.2013

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