Most of those 600 Japanese oysters suffocated in a tank in New Jersey


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Japanese oysters, dubbed "mutant Ninja oysters," may yet be placed in the York River. But not this year.

Ninety percent of the oysters for the experiment suffocated in an 8,000-gallon tank at a research laboratory in New Jersey.

The experiment had been designed as a prelude to introducing Japanese oysters into the Chesapeake Bay to sustain the commercial oyster industry. The bay's oyster population is less than 1 percent of what it was 100 years ago.

"This is disappointing to us," said Eugene M. Burreson, a scientist at Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. "We finally got permission to do the research after two years of asking, and now we can't do it because the oysters died."

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission agreed two weeks ago to allow scientists from VIMS to place sterile Japanese oysters in the York River to see whether they resist MSX, one of two diseases that has decimated the native oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay. The foreign oysters resist dermo, the other disease that kills native oysters.

Rutgers University scientists were creating sterile Japanese oysters for VIMS and for their own experiments. Scientists wanted to put the Japanese oysters in the Chesapeake Bay no later than this month. Oysters are most vulnerable to MSX in May and June.

For the past two years, scientists and watermen have debated the introduction of the foreign oysters. Some say the oysters taste rubbery and bland and could bring new diseases and overwhelm the native oysters.

VIMS Director Dennis Taylor may decide by this evening whether to allow the research next year, his secretary said.

Maryland officials, who oppose the research, are waiting until Mr. Taylor announces his decision before they will say whether they will try to stop the research, said Pete Jensen, chief of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries Division.

The sterile Japanese oysters in the tank in New Jersey began dying June 1. By Wednesday, most of the 600 were dead, said Standish Allen, a scientist at Rutgers University's laboratory near Cape May. Water from the Delaware Bay is pumped into the tank daily, but as water gets warmer, it carries less oxygen. "As we got into May, it became more and more stressful for the oysters," he said.

"I'm sick about it," Mr. Allen said. "It's pathetic."

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