Last year was the Virginia oyster industry’s best since 1989, a sign that sweeping regulations are helping restore the Chesapeake Bay’s signature bivalve, state officials said Tuesday.
Watermen harvested 236,000 bushels during the 2011 season, according to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. That’s more than 10 times the amount in 2001 and the highest number sinceGeorge H.W. Bush occupied the Oval Office.
State officials attributed the boost to regulations enacted last decade, including rotating harvest areas, planting oyster shells and creating oyster sanctuaries.
“I applaud the actions of previous gubernatorial administrations which have helped Virginia oysters to make such a vigorous comeback,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement.
McDonnell eliminated oyster restoration funding his first two years in office has proposed spending $1 million the next two years. The funding is under consideration by the General Assembly.
The 2011 dockside value of Virginia’s oysters was $8.26 million. Given ancillary expenses such as gasoline, tackle and other supplies, the industry contributed roughly $22 million in economic activity in Virginia, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
While an improvement, the harvest still lags behind the salad days of the 1960s, when Virginia watermen routinely snagged more than a million bushels annually. The population nearly collapsed in the 1990s after decades of overfishing, habitat loss and the onset of two deadly diseases, Dermo and MSX.
Bay advocates say the state needs to reduce pollution entering the bay.
“To continue to grow Virginia’s economy and create jobs, it is critical that the commonwealth continue efforts to restore oysters and to improve water quality in the bay and its rivers,” a Chesapeake Bay Foundation statement said.
The foundation also called for more investment in oyster aquaculture, the practice of growing oysters in cages, floats and other means. Aquaculture sales jumped 34 percent in 2010, a trend that is expected to grow largely to the development of a fast-growing, disease-resistant oyster.