Update: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources presented part of its first-ever state oyster stock assessment on November 19, 2018. The results found that oyster populations in Maryland declined by more than half in the past 20 years, from about 600 million market-size oysters in 1999 to fewer than 300 million in early 2018. Read More
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 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. Find out more about the state of today's oyster fishery.
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.
26 Mar 2017 00:02:16
This segment of CBF's "The Incredible Oyster Reef" shows how oysters build reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.
21 Mar 2017 00:10:08
This film explores oysters as a keystone species with a remarkable, and it seems, indispensable ability to heal the Bay’s troubled waters.
21 Mar 2017 Episode 1 | 00:00:58
In the first episode of Back to Baysics, find out why oyster sanctuaries are important to the Chesapeake Bay.
14 Feb 2017 Episode 49 | 00:34:38
In this episode, CBF President Will Baker talks with Maryland Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden about the state of the Chesapeake native oyster.
20 Dec 2016 Episode 46 | 44:03
CBF President Will Baker and retiring CBF Fisheries Scientist Bill Goldsborough discuss the progress made using the science-based management of rockfish, crabs, oysters, and menhaden over the last decades.