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Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley held a press conference in Annapolis, MD last Thursday to announce a plan to restore the oyster population to the Chesapeake Bay by prohibiting oyster harvesting in selected areas (Baltimore Sun; oyster plan pdf).Those most affected by the plan will be MD watermen; O’Malley offered them $2.5 M in funding to transition from oyster tonging/dredging to commercial oyster aquaculture (Baltimore Sun). This shift from oyster harvesting to aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay is just one example of the global trend toward aquaculture.
Not only will oyster aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay provide jobs to underemployed watermen, but it will reduce stress on overharvested native oysters. Farmed oysters are considered a sustainable seafood product and were awarded Seafood Watch’s “best choice” label, because farmed oysters clean the water as they feed and any spat (juvenile oysters) that are produced as a result of the aquaculture operation can actually repopulate surrounding areas. In many ways, oyster aquaculture is a net benefit for the environment (Ulanowicz and Tuttle et al., 1992), which is not always true for other forms of aquaculture (“Marine Aquaculture in the US,” Pew Oceans Commission Report pdf).
I’d like to thank Governor O’Malley for addressing the oyster crisis in the Chesapeake Bay, and the MD Oyster Advisory Commission, whose January 2009 report (pdf) appears to lay the foundation for much of what Governor O’Malley proposed.