Despite all of the scientific evidence that non-native oysters may cause more harm to our Chesapeake Bay oyster population, the Virginia Senate is proposing a resolution to support the Asian oyster introduction.
Should decisions like this be driven by science or politics?
Those who agree that non-native oysters should not be introduced to the Chesapeake Bay include
- U.S. Department of the Interior,
- National Oceanographic and Atmosheric Administration (NOAA),
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
- Chesapeake Bay Program Science and Technology Advisory Committee,
- Chesapeake Bay Program Citizen's Advisory Committee,
- Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission,
- Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, and the
- Virginia Institute of Marince Science.
Supporters of the proposal want to introduce sterile Asian oysters into the Bay to build up the oyster fishery. Although the Asian oyster grows quickly and resists diseases affecting the Chesapeake oyster, the science highlights considerable uncertainty on its success. Instead, cultivation of native oysters on sanctuary reefs and in commercial aquaculture operations should be supported. CBF Senior Scientist Bill Goldsborough has said that “the scientific community is generally positive about the prospects for native oyster restoration,” citing numerous successful projects Virginia and Maryland. (see links below)
What else does the science say? It confirms that the Asian oyster
- is more vulnerable to predators than the Chesapeake oyster,
- has a greater sensitivity to the Bay’s low dissolved oxygen levels, and
- poses a risk of local extinction for Chesapeake species oysters by disrupting its reproduction, competing for space, and serving as a host for disease (yes, the local oysters are susceptible to new diseases introduced by the non-native oyster).
In addition, it is likely that introduction of sterile oysters will inevitably result in a reproductive population, and that they will spread beyond the boarders of the Chesapeake Bay to disrupt other oyster fisheries.
If you live in Virginia and want to stop the introduction of the Asian oyster, you can help by sending your senator an e-mail urging him or her to vote "NO" when Senate Joint Resolution 411 comes up for a vote.
Successful native oyster aquaculture projects include:
- a partnership of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and Bevans Oyster Company in Virginia's Yeocomico River;
- oyster reefs in the Eastern Bay of Maryland, near Kent Island and;
- oyster restoration efforts in Virginia's Piankatank River and Lynnhaven River (the last is a pdf);