By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A massive die-off of oysters in the Chesapeake is placing livelihoods on the brink.

Alex DeMetrick reports some watermen are already calling it quits.

Every oyster season will turn up empty shells and dead oysters, but this year was worse than normal.

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

Watermen say the Chesapeake north of the bay has become an oyster graveyard. They blame the massive runoff from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, which brought debris and a flood of fresh water, which kills oysters.

“We can’t oyster through this. This has really hit us hard,” said waterman Richard Manly.

“The hurricane’s gone from most people’s memories but if you work the bay, you’re dealing with it every day,” said waterman Greg Jetton.

Sweitzer is dealing with it by getting out. He’ll place one of Maryland’s last working skipjacks for sale, a boat that’s supported his family for 64 years.

“I don’t have any other choice. Logistically, I can’t work the lower bay; it’s just too far away,” he said.

Because oysters reproduce best in saltier water, the northern bay will take years to recover.

“If you get a good spawn once every five years in the upper bay, you’re doing pretty good,” said Erik Zlokovitz, DNR Fisheries.

“The worst part for me with this boat, it’s not the money you make off of it, it’s the opportunity to go out there and watch the sun come up and actually do the job and that’s what’s heartbreaking to me. That breaks my heart,” Sweitzer said.

Although watermen believe tropical weather triggered the oyster die-off, state scientists have yet to determine an exact cause.

Comments (77)
  1. PAUL E. MICELLI says:

    The “BAY” is and has been a CESSPOOL for many years. All the s@@t from up in Penn. and farm runoff has depleted the Bay of any NATURAL AQUATIC LIFE!! You take your life in your own hands if you consume anything that survives in that dump.

    1. RS says:

      Interesting that it was FRESH water that killed the oysters,

      Not pollution.

      1. Crew Jobs says:

        Fresh water is not the same thing as clean water. Fresh just means it is not salt water like the ocean.

      2. Marl says:

        LOL, you have never lived around any natural water resources your entire life. Have you? Feel sorry for you that you never had contact with nature. Typical story of typical city boy.

    2. Becca says:

      Our local oyster beds in East Bay (Milton, FL) area are also dead….they are blaming this on the oil spill and the chemicals used to break down the oil…hmmm…interesting that this occurred in an area not even remotely near the oil spill!!

      1. desert says:

        you ever heard of the gulf stream moron??

      2. Becca says:

        Gulf Stream in Baltimore? I think you are the Moron!

      3. Pot, meet kettle says:

        Uh, Becca, weren’t you talking about Florida? Neither of you said anything about Baltimore…moron?

  2. Dirty Ol Sam says:

    Oysters are natural garbage disposal units. They are there to keep the bay clean. When you farm the hell out of it and deplete their population, you are destroying the balance, not to mention you’re eating things that eat sh1t for a living. Good luck fixing your probllem.

  3. stargirl says:

    another normal occurrence to blame on global warming!

  4. Lawyered Up says:

    Baltimore – Where the debris meets the sea.

  5. Dnata says:

    Scientist have been studying the bay for thirty years, and don’t know anymore about protecting the oysters than they did 30 years ago. Just don’t cut the tax dollars that funds their studies.

    1. Lilith says:

      You are so correct. I worked for the University of Maryland research fleet for the Bay. I was a swing mate on their research vessels. The date was in the mid-seventies. The Bay was in serious decline, then. One of the problems we saw was, not only low salinity levels and pollution, but the oyster men would kill young oysters called spat which attach to oyster shells to get 1 healthy oyster.

  6. wootendw says:

    I guess I’ll just have to pay even more for Oysters Rockefeller.

  7. Diego Roswell says:

    Baltimore is filthy, evil, place.

    1. dirkpitt says:

      You must be a Pittsburgh fan!

  8. Eddie says:

    Baltimore is a great city. Lived there for 7 years and I miss it. Chesapeake Bay is beautiful – great place to sail.

  9. David says:

    Not to get all preachy here. It is true YHVH tells us all creation is good however He also goes on to say that not all was created to be eaten. These little bottom feeders serve a purpose and that’s to eat what people flush down their toilets. What boggles my mind is people then to turn right around and eat them. BLECH!

  10. ohiowordguy says:

    If you want to know why the bay is really dying read Joel Salatin’s book, “Everything I want to do is illegal.” In it, Salatin spells out exactly how the government-sponsored runoff abatement program actually exacerbated the problem.

    Here’s the sentence in the article that really caught my eye:

    “Although watermen believe tropical weather triggered the oyster die-off, state scientists have yet to determine an exact cause.”

    Yeah. These guys have been at it for generations, but the *scientists* need time to figure it out.

    1. artemis133 says:

      I caught that, too. I daresay that the watermen know a whole hell of a lot more about the Chesapeake Bay than the scientists ever will!

  11. Brigmaster says:

    Sick to death of hearing the crying and moaning about the beach, the bay, the oysters and the stinking blue crabs.

  12. Mike Kell says:

    Maybe he can move down to the Gulf where the oysters are fine.

    1. Ratt says:

      If you can find any that aren’t $50 bucks a gallon,,, sob’s

  13. Tommy Peters says:

    What is funny is that after several hurricanes in the last 20 years or so it seems to me that our North Carolina oysters have made a little comeback. I would think the dry summer, before the hurricanes might be the reason. Of course that is the bay and we are dealing with a sound that is somewhat different. Since Floid, and Isabel there have been some oysters, many more than the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

  14. Sick of LEECHES says:

    GET A JOB !!!!!

    STOP MIL:KING the BAY!!!!!!

  15. Lord says:

    Suck it up pal… the Gov of retired residents banned out nets in North Carolina and knocked us out of business overnight. You only suffered a natural disaster we suffered an unnatural disaster.

  16. glitchus says:

    Too bad about all the fresh water, which actually does have a rather detrimental effect on oysters over fictional pollution for political purposes. I know, as I actually have a crop myself in the Great NW.

    1. Buck O'Fama says:

      Don’t try to educate liberals, their within their glowbull worming bubble of hype and just like the dome of silence on the old Get Smart show, they can’t hear you.

  17. Buck O'Fama says:

    Obama becomes the little emperor and all the jobs disappear, even the clams have clammed up. Now only if DUH WON would clam up.

  18. Sasha Payne says:


    These poor oystermen don’t need to worry — Obama already has free Food Stamps, free ObamaCare and 99 weeks of Unemployment benies waiting for them!


    1. RonFMiller says:

      Yes, but the rest of us will have to pay more for our oysters because of the shortage, making us poorer, and headed for destitution. Are oysters covered under the Food Stamp Program?

      1. lisa says:

        Forget about the rising cost of oysters, we’ll be paying for those food stamps and unemployment benefits too. 2012 here we come …

  19. rowley says:

    The pollution is coming down stream from the WH in Washington. EPA should close down the Fed. Govt. until the next election.

  20. Robert G says:

    “Although watermen believe tropical weather triggered the oyster die-off, state scientists have yet to determine an exact cause.”

    I will believe the watermen long before I believe a state scientist. Remember it’s the so called scientist that brought us the global warming scam. After that scientist have no credibility at all.

    1. Multipurpose Glue says:

      Yeah, no credibility. So don’t take any medicine, eat any processed or GMO food, drive a car, use oil from new processes, talk on a cell phone, watch a flat screen tv, etc.

      Scientists drive our country.

      1. Shootingiron says:

        Correction, engineers drive our country.

      2. Multipurpose Glue says:


      3. RonFMiller says:

        There’s a big difference between the scientists and engineers in the private sector versus the public sector. The private sector ones create things we want to bring to market and make a buck in the process. The public sector ones create bureaucracies with the goal of expanding those bureaucracies and guaranteeing job security.

  21. jd says:

    Most know that oysters don’t live in lakes and thats what the bay turned into when hurricane rains occur; A fresh water lake..

  22. charles says:

    Oyster aquaculture is really becoming advanced.

    Too bad the oyster industry doesn’t have a program to employ these career oystermen to grow and drop seed/sprat on oyster bars.

    20 boats doing this daily can cover the whole bay and rebuild the business.

  23. Jon Galt says:

    This article is only designed to curry sympathy for the Chesapeake Bay Watermen (already raping the bay) who think they own the bay by lobbying lawmakers to protect their pockets not the resource. A resource that we ALL own and are supposed to share. I do not feel sorry for the watermen. Watermen are simply greedy because they know the bay is in bad shape and are still trying to lobby for higher quotas. Well this is what you get when allowed to take a resource to the brink of collapse and have no plan for a catastrophe like Tropical storm Lee.
    ACTION needs to be taken to ENFORCE sediment runoff in the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Susquehanna river which winds through Pennsylvania all the way up into New York, is the main source of sediment runoff into the bay. These people need to be held accountable.
    The bay will do a much better job repairing herself if she didnt have the sediment AND the watermen to deal with.

    1. foreman says:

      Sediment runoff? You mean like the natural sediment that grows the Mississippi and Nile and Sacramento deltas?
      I guess we better get a handle on that…

      There are some people here who don’t have a clue about fishermen and fisheries. The use of the word “greedy’ is a dead giveaway.

      Maybe those people should pay attention to the non-ingidenous sea otters that are wiping out abalone off the California coast.

  24. grinbot says:

    According to modern research, sediments and runoff are not the main cause of oyster depletion, but destructive fishing practices. Scientists claim oysters grow best when their breeding beds are within a certain distance from the surface of the bay. Dredging destroys the oyster bars. If this research is true, then watermen need to use methods that don’t lower the level of the oyster beds. Bars at the proper depth would allow the oyster populations to increase, which would help clean the bay and provide watermen with a living.

    1. RS says:

      I think in the bay, the main killers of oysters are non-native parasites.
      Dredging doesn’t help, but experiments with restored beds don’t seem to be working well.

      Unlike crabs, where limitations on dredging pregnant females have resulted in the explosive growth of the crab population… and they taste better than oysters anyway.

  25. rosencrentz says:

    This is horrible , that after 64 years, something has changed! Since this gentleman started at age 31, at 95 he is way past retirement age, but he can still steer his boat out there so he can watch the sun rise and sun set, cann’t he?

  26. Marilyn Gillespie Chapman says:

    The die offs are caused by all the fertilizer being washed into the bay from all the acres that have been converted for growing corn. This is a direct result of the governements ethanol subsidy program. And the government knows this, but they won’t admit it.

  27. Mimi says:

    How about dropping salt licks along the bars? There must be some way to bring the saline level up. Sorry if this is a stupid idea. Just trying to come up with some solution.

  28. Pearl says:

    Watermen – watergirlies more like. Lose the thongs and get real jobs try something that does not involve killing stuff that cant fight back.

  29. MD DAD says:

    I couldn’t eat anything that looked like it fell out of a bull’s nose!!!

  30. Concern says:

    Fuel Fund of Maryland listed at & .

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