Chesapeake Baby Oyster Numbers, Survival Rate, Up

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — There’s a glimmer of hope for the Chesapeake Bay’s struggling oyster population.

Alex DeMetrick reports death rates that had been soaring are down dramatically—the biggest drop in a decade.

Every year, as fall dips into winter on the Chesapeake, state biologists spend months on the bay, surveying the health of Maryland’s oyster population.  They count live, dead and spat, or baby oysters attached to shell.

Nine years ago, following a lengthy drought that produced saltier water and higher levels of oyster parasites, it wasn’t good.  Then, in early 2009, things started to improve in spots.  Now the latest survey results are in.

“And the good news is, we’ve seen the highest level of reproduction since 1997.  That’s the number of baby oysters that settled on oyster bars,” said Tom O’Connell, DNR Fisheries.

And it’s not just the babies doing better.  Ten years ago, 60 percent of the oysters were dying, killed by microscopic parasites and disease that thrived during the drought.  But with wetter weather, the mortality rate is now just 12 percent.

“And this is really fabulous news.  Oysters play an important role in the Chesapeake Bay’s restoration.  They filter water and help keep the bay cleaner, so the more oysters we have, the cleaner the bay is going to be,” said Kim Coble, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

But science says it’s going to take time and that ups and downs will come until nature battles back.

The increased number of baby oysters isn’t isolated to just the bay; it’s also being reported all along the East Coast.

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