Oysters once powered an industry in Maryland. Over harvesting, disease and poor water quality put that industry on the rocks.
Alex DeMetrick reports Maryland is trying to bring it back, one underwater acre at a time.
Maryland once served up oysters to the nation. Now it figures the appetite’s still there.
“There’s room for 2.5 to 3 million bushels of oysters in the market right now,” said Don Webster, University of Maryland.
And the state is banking most can come from aquaculture. Whether raised on top of the water, or below, it is leasing 5,000 acres to potential growers like waterman Johnny Shockley.
“I just saw a need to go in something more modern, more stable,”Shockley
To attract more, the state is hosting “how-to” conferences, and even offering low interest loans. Rachel Dean and her husband currently harvest wild oysters but will try raising their own.
“If we’re able to go out there and we’re able to put our blood, sweat and tears into our own lease site and market that, possibly we could do what Virginia’s doing,” Dean said.
Virginia is making top dollar for raised oysters. While Maryland is “trying to rebuild the industry,”Webster said.
But opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean change will be easy.
“It’s one of those things that might be necessary, and we’re willing to take a shot,”Dean said.
For aquaculture to work, oysters must stay healthy. New strains developed by the University of Maryland grow quickly and show signs of being disease tolerant.