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Oyster Farming Paying Dividends

Shellfish “farming,” or aquaculture, has taken off in the Chesapeake Bay region, and especially in Virginia.  That has meant not only more tasty bivalves for seafood lovers to enjoy but more dollars – millions of dollars – to boost the state’s economy.

According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, clam and oyster farming has become “a booming, multi-million dollar industry” in the Commonwealth. For example, the state’s total oyster harvest increased ten-fold between 2001 and 2011. During that decade, the dockside value of oysters increased from $575,000 to $8.26 million.

Using a multiplier formula established by Virginia Institute of Marine Science seafood industry economist Dr. James Kirkley, the ripple effect of that $8.26 million through the economy produced $22 million in economic value.

Who said a healthy environment and a healthy economy can’t get along?

(Recognizing the importance of oysters to the economy and the environment, Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed that Virginia spend $2.5 million next year on oyster restoration and replenishment in Virginia.)

Of course, the millions of oysters being grown using aquaculture also help the Chesapeake Bay. An adult oyster can filter about 50 gallons of water a day, clearing it of algae, plankton, and detritus. Clearer water is beneficial, even vital, to a healthy Bay and to the restoration of critical underwater Bay grasses.

P6170015There are hundreds of private and commercial oyster farmers in Virginia growing oyster for their own personal consumption or for sale to retail and wholesale customers. Many oyster farmers sell their wares directly to restaurants in Virginia and to eateries out of state.

For example, Chapel Creek Oyster Co. of Cobbs Creek, Va., supplies fresh oysters to The Boathouse Restaurant in Richmond and Midlothian, Va. It also recycles oyster shells to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s SOS Program (Save Oyster Shell) for use in Bay oyster restoration projects.

Another oyster farming company, Rappahannock DSC_0274 River Oysters of Topping, Va., recently opened its own restaurant in downtown Richmond.

None of this is intended to be an endorsement of particular oyster companies or the restaurants they supply. There’re just too many to mention; contact the Shellfish Growers of Virginia or the Virginia Marine Products Board to find more. All are doing great work growing oysters, helping the Bay, satisfying gourmands, and stimulating the economy.

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Top photo: Choptank Oyster Co.


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I've seen the local oysters for sale at my grocery store and would love to buy them,but wasn't sure how to cook them -- do you steam them, just like with clams?

I love oysters. Always have. Any way you fix them. It is so gratifying to see increased harvest even if 'farmed'. Us folks up-steam (Shenandoah Valley)need to 'up' our game and send cleaner water to the Bay - more scrumptious oysters for me

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