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 1 Blossom Where You're Planted

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

  • The Incredible Oyster Reef

    This film explores oysters as a keystone species with a remarkable, and it seems, indispensable ability to heal the Bay’s troubled waters.

  • Back to Baysics: Oyster Sanctuaries

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

  • The Incredible Oyster

    In this episode, CBF President Will Baker talks with Maryland Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden about the state of the Chesapeake native oyster.

  • Let Science Be Your Guide

    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.

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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.

Share Your Clean Water Story

What does the Bay, its rivers and streams mean to you? What impact have the Bay and its local waters had on your life? We'd like to know.

Share Your Story

Volunteer

Do you enjoy working with others to help clean the Chesapeake Bay? Do you have a few hours to spare? Whether growing oysters, planting trees, or helping in our offices, there are plenty of ways you can contribute.

Volunteer