Eastern Oysters

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Great Shellfish of the Bay

Since colonial times, the Chesapeake (meaning "great shellfish Bay" in Algonquin) has lost more than 98 percent of its oysters. Gone are the days when oyster reefs posed navigational hazards to Chesapeake Bay explorers or watermen pulled 17 million bushels of oysters each year. Now, Maryland and Virginia watermen and the seafood industry have lost $4 billion in income in the past 30 years alone. But as recent studies find, all is not lost.

A two-month Maryland Department of Natural Resources survey conducted in 2011 revealed higher levels of oyster reproduction and a lower mortality rate. In fact, Chesapeake Bay oysters seem to be growing heartier and more robust. Given that each adult oyster filters and cleans up to 50 gallons of water per day—gobbling up algae, and removing dirt and nitrogen pollution—that's good news for the health of the Chesapeake Bay and for us.

After a devastating bout with disease in the late 1980s combined with decades of overharvesting, habitat destruction, and water pollution, the oyster was hanging on by a thread. "That was a turning point really," says CBF Fisheries Director Bill Goldsborough, "because up until that point, for the previous 100 years, oysters had supported the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake Bay."

Now, thanks to increased awareness, extensive restoration efforts such as CBF's citizen oyster-gardening program and reef ball production, resisting the introduction of a non-native oyster species, and favorable weather conditions, there is hope for the mighty oyster yet.

Learn more about CBF's oyster restoration efforts.

Support Efforts to Restore Three-Dimensional Reefs to the Bay

SPREAD the word to your neighbors and friends about how important oysters are to the health of the waters and wildlife of the Bay.

SHARE your support for oyster recovery—and especially the unique value of vertical reefs—by writing a letter in your local paper or to state officials responsible for oyster restoration.

VOLUNTEER with CBF's active oyster restoration program by building reef balls, cleaning shells, or becoming an oyster gardener. Visit cbf.org/oysters
for more info.

MAKE A DONATION to support our oyster restoration program by giving the gift of oysters from our online Giving Catalog at cbf.org/catalog.

Multimedia

  • Part 3 Build It and They Will Come

    This segment of CBF’s "The Incredible Oyster Reef" explores the important habitat that oyster reefs provide for other creatures in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

  • Oyster Gardening in Hampton, Virginia

    Claire Neubert shows why she loves growing oysters at home for efforts to restore Virginia’s oyster population. To find out more, visit www.cbf.org/vaoystergardening.

  • Part 2 Rising from the Muck

    This segment of CBF’s ”The Incredible Oyster Reef” explores the benefits of oyster reefs.

  • Part 1 Blossom Where You're Planted

    This segment of CBF's "The Incredible Oyster Reef" shows how oysters build reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.

  • Back to Baysics: Oyster Sanctuaries

    In the first episode of Back to Baysics, find out why oyster sanctuaries are important to the Chesapeake Bay.

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What Should be the Role of Oysters in the Bay Cleanup?

The mighty oyster's capacity for removing excess nutrients from our Bay's waters is well known. But is it enough to consider oysters a player in achieving the pollution reductions of the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint? A number of factors need to be understood to engage in such a discussion. CBF's position on using oysters to comply with the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load addresses these factors.

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