Oyster History in the Chesapeake Bay

The oyster population is now 1% of what is was in the late 1800's.

The Chesapioc in the Beginning

A myriad of organisms made up the oyster reef community. There were 200,000 acres of "oyster rock" in the Chesapeake Bay in 1607. Oysters lived for decades and grew to 12" long. This image reprinted with the permission of VIMS


Oyster Harvesting Began

Large scale harvesting began in the early 1800's. Shells were used to make oyster lime mortar, crop fertilizer, and road aggregate. 20-30 railroad cars carried oysters from Crisfield, Maryland daily. From 7 million bushels in 1891 and 295 million in the 19th century, to 100,000 bushels in 2010.

The oyster population is now 1% of what is was in the late 1800's.


What happened?

The "rock" was completely removed, eliminating regeneration potential. Poor water quality stressed the oysters and facilitated disease.

Shoreline erosion control. Habitat from the smallest organisms up to game fish. Large oysters each capable of filtering 50 gallons of water per day.


What has been done?

Disease resistant, faster growing spats have been developed. Some attempts at reef establishment have failed, especially when oysters have been placed on the bottom. Aquaculture has proven viability of spats higher up in the water column. For this reason, importing the Japanese oyster was abandoned. Successful habitat restoration has still not taken place systematically.