Results of Maryland’s 2013 Fall Oyster Survey indicate populations are continuing to increase. The oyster population has more than doubled since 2010, reaching its highest point since this type of monitoring began in 1985.
The upswing was driven by high oyster survival over the past few years as well as strong reproduction in 2010 and 2012. As a result, oyster harvests have increased, with watermen quickly reaching their daily catch limits during the early part of the season.
“Preliminary harvest reports for the past season have already surpassed 400,000 bushels – with a dockside value in excess of $13 million – the highest in at least 15 years,” said DNR Secretary Joe Gill. “Coupled with the survey results, we have reason to be cautiously optimistic a sustainable oyster population can once again play a vital role in the Bay’s ecosystem and Maryland’s economy.”
In one of the longest running such programs in the world, Maryland has monitored the status of the State’s oyster population through annual field surveys since 1939. The surveys track relative oyster population abundance, reproduction, disease and annual mortality rates, and offer a window into future population levels.
According to the survey, at 92 percent, oyster samples revealed the highest survival rate (the number of oysters found alive in a sample), since 1985 when these measurements began. The Maryland Oyster Biomass Index, a measure of the oyster population, was also the highest since 1985. Oyster reproduction was slightly above the 29-year midpoint, but was largely confined to the lower portion of the Bay.
Oyster diseases remain at relatively low levels. Dermo was below the long-term average for the eleventh consecutive year, with levels similar to 2012, but, continues to be widely distributed throughout Maryland waters. MSX increased slightly from the record-low levels of 2011 and 2012, but remains well below the long-term average.
The survey shows that natural mortality rates within oyster sanctuaries were similar to adjacent harvest areas.
source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources