The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) today extended the Virginia oyster season in certain waters after a recent evaluation found the Virginia oyster stock at its best condition in a generation.
This oyster season extension will likely lead Virginia’s public oyster harvest to top 300,000 bushels for the first time since the 1987-88 season, according to a VMRC staff evaluation. Virginia’s oyster fishery crashed after that season due to disease and overharvest. It is “only recently beginning to show signs of sustained recovery,” VMRC staff said, encouraging the VMRC to take “a conservative and incremental approach when considering increasing harvest amounts.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) 2022 State of the Bay report noted record years for oyster reproduction in both Maryland and Virginia in 2020 and 2021 coupled with several years of below-average mortality from disease and predators. But the CBF report cautioned that increasing the oyster harvest too quickly has limited recovery in the past.
The Commission today approved a change supported by VMRC staff extending the oyster harvest season by two weeks in March and April in portions of waterways where oyster populations are strong. This is in addition to a separate season extension the VMRC approved in late January for portions of the James and Rappahannock Rivers.
CBF Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore issued the following statement.
“Virginia’s latest oyster numbers are another promising sign that oyster populations are continuing to recover in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. We are fortunate to now be able to contemplate harvest increases that benefit local economies and local seafood lovers.
“Changes to oyster regulations must be done very carefully. In the past, increases in oyster numbers have quickly led to harvest increases, limiting long-term recovery.
“The Chesapeake oyster is still in the very early stages of a comeback after a tremendous amount of investment in reducing pollution to the Bay, years of diligent fishery management, and significant successful state and federal investment in oyster restoration. To keep oyster numbers growing, harvest increases must continue to be done slowly, incrementally, and cautiously, as VMRC staff recommends.”