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Oyster Populations Booming In South Part Of The Chesapeake Bay

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Even good news about the Chesapeake can be overshadowed. In this case, it’s oysters.

Alex DeMetrick reports in the south part of the bay, oyster populations are booming. Above the Bay Bridge, it’s a graveyard.

The oyster season on the Chesapeake ended over a month ago. Now it’s time to take stock.

“Our oyster biomass is the highest it’s been since 1985. And that suggests to us that our good oyster harvests will continue for some time,” said Mike Naylor, Department of Natural Resources Fisheries.

This past season certainly was good. Every year, DNR counts what was caught and adds that to a survey of hundreds of oyster bars to determine population stocks.

This past season, over 400,000 bushels of oysters were harvested in Maryland waters. That figure is twice the catch pulled from the bay just four years ago.

“We had a very good season this year,” said waterman Robby Witt.

But watermen like Witt had to go to the south bay, where oysters appear to be overcoming a disease that nearly wiped them out.

“And it seems like they’re surviving dermo better. That’s the disease that’s killing them mostly,” he said.

But the oyster boom is far from baywide.

“Since the mid-1980s, oyster populations above the Bay Bridge have been very poor,” said Naylor. “We haven’t had effective reproduction up there in almost a generation now.”

It’s not clear it’s any one cause, although two years ago sediment and freshwater from tropical storms virtually wiped out oysters in the north bay.

“Some of the bars were 100 percent dead. We didn’t find a live oyster on it at all,” said Barry Sweitzer, waterman.

Which means watermen like Robby Witt will travel south again next fall, especially given all the young oysters he saw this past season.

“We’re impressed. We see lots of small oysters,” Witt said.

And hopefully, another good harvest.

Even with oyster bars thriving in Maryland’s southern waters, they still represent only a small fraction of the oyster population 20 years ago.

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