The oyster is back.
The results of a fall 2011 study reveal that the Chesapeake Bay's native oyster population is enjoying its highest survival rate since 1985.
According to a news release from Gov. Martin O'Malley's office, the bay's oysters have a 92 percent survival rate—a figure compiled by the percentage of oysters found alive in a sample set. Last year's spatset, or baby oyster count, was the highest in 14 years.
O'Malley has included approximately $8 million toward ongoing oyster protection in the FY2013 budget.
In the statement, O'Malley said: "Although our fight to restore a thriving oyster population to the Chesapeake Bay is far from over, our continued commitment to renewing this iconic species has begun to pay off. Through balanced investments in aquaculture, sanctuaries, stewardship and enforcement, our native oyster is coming back. Together, we can continue to create jobs and support our local economies while returning our native oyster to healthy, sustainable levels.”
Last year's figures show marked improvement.
"This is more than double the survival rate in 2002, when record disease levels killed off 58 percent of the population. The overall biomass index—which measures population health by volume—is also up 44 percent over last year. Not only did these baby oysters thrive under ideal growing conditions, this year we also found a new, high spatset in high salinity areas such as the Tangier Sound,” DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell said in the state release.
The proposed budget calls for $7.5 million in oyster bar restoration in Talbot County's Harris Creek and Dorchester County's Little Choptank River. Another $500,000 has been earmarked for aquaculture infrastructure investments.
The majority of the state's oyster population exists south of the Bay Bridge, according to the release. The oyster population in the northern region of the bay was impacted by the high freshwater and sediment from the August and September storms.
Still, the bay isn't nearly the oyster hotbed that it once was.
According to the statement, Maryland's annual oyster harvest has dropped from approximately 2.5 million bushels in the 1960s to slightly more than 100,000 bushels annually since 2002. The oysterman industry has dipped from 2,000 workers to just 550, the release said.