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Maryland Watermen Find Booming Oyster Harvest

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — The annual oyster harvest is underway in the bay and this year, there’s a positive twist.

Alex DeMetrick reports it’s shaping up to be the best harvest in a decade.

It’s been years since Maryland watermen have pulled this many oysters out of the Chesapeake.

“We’re having a fantastic oyster season this year, largely based on the spat set we had in 2010,” said Mike Naylor, DNR Fisheries.

Spat are the baby oysters that set on other oyster shells and it takes just the right weather for a population explosion. Dry weather that plagues farmers is needed because less freshwater runs into the bay, increasing the salt levers and triggering oyster reproduction. But too much salt triggers the diseases that can wipe out whole bars.

The harvest underway now is the result of the bay balancing in the Goldilock zone: neither too salty nor too fresh.

“These oysters have had very little mortality over the last two years. They’re now market size and we’re seeing harvests double and maybe triple this year,” Naylor said.

Doubling would mean 200,000 bushels this year; tripling would mean 300,000. It’s the best harvest since the 1990s.

But oyster abundance has created a bit of a hitch: shucking houses are getting overwhelmed. Since this is where most of Maryland’s catch ends up, shuckers are having a hard time keeping up.

Supply is also driving down the price watermen are paid, although after so many poor to mediocre years, few are complaining.

While the oyster harvest is up this year, it is still a fraction of what it once was before overfishing, pollution and disease wiped out most of the bay’s oysters.

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