Eastern Oysters

Great Shellfish of the Bay

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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. Find out more about the state of today's oyster fishery.

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

  • Live with CBF's Oyster Restoration Team

    In this Facebook Live video,we're on the banks of the South River in Annapolis with CBF'S MD Oyster Restoration Specialist Pat Beall.

  • Seeding Our Future

    CBF President Will Baker talks with Jackie Shannon and Heather North, experts from CBF's Virginia oyster restoration center, about rebuilding the Bay's living water treatment centers.

  • Beneath the Surface-Exploring the Severn River

    Take a trip beneath the surface of the Severn where we see incredible signs of the Bay's recovery

  • Planting Oysters on Maryland's Eastern Shore

    Karl Willey, CBF's MD Oyster Restoration Manager and "Patricia Campbell" Captain, explains how he builds a 30-foot wide oyster reef on the Little Choptank River with four million baby oysters!

  • Planting 4 Million Oysters in the Little Choptank, Part One

    Karl Wiley, CBF's MD Oyster Restoration Manager and Patricia Campbell Captain, explains how the Little Choptank oyster reef is funded, why oysters are so important, and how the oyster vessel works.

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Oysters Infographic

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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

Save the Bay

Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay.

Save the Bay