Oyster Culture: Then and Now

The link between efficiency and sustainability has been a balancing act in the world of oyster and clam harvesting for many years. However, upon our visit to Cherry Stone Aqua Farms we saw how efficient and sustainable aqua culture is compared to the traditional means of harvesting.

Early in the semester we took a trip with Captain Wadey Murphy on his skipjack the Rebecca T. Ruark. A seasoned waterman and nine time skipjack race champ, Wadey had made a living on oystering for decades, but since the decline in the fishery from over harvesting, he has been giving tours on his ship and giving folks a history of the industry and posing his opinions on how to restore the fishery. Even though Wadey had poached oysters in the dead of the night, and robbed the bay of a keystone species repeatedly to make a quick buck, he told us that he thought a moratorium on oystering was the only option for the longevity of oyster culture.

In the hay day of oystering, the only way oyster populations were ‘sustained’ was by keeping the efficiency of harvesting in check. For example, oyster men were limited to harvesting under motor power two days a week and the rest of the time would have to be under sail. Oyster men were outraged on the limits placed upon their “God given right” to exploit the commons of the generous bay for their financial gain. When aqua culture was introduced in the Chesapeake , many oyster men did not want anything to do with it because it meant they would become a part of a system, lose their independence, and would be working in a set location. Even with the proven success of sustainable aquaculture, the majority of watermen continued to be stubborn even as their livelihood was diminishing right before their eyes.

The Cherry Stone Aqua Farm and Hatchery presented a stark contrast to the traditional watermen culture of Chesapeake bay. The aquaculture operation is part of Ballard Fish and Oyster Company and grows millions of Oysters and Clams annually. Triploid oysters are most commonly grown because being triploid means they have been altered so that they can’t reproduce. This means they can grow year round at a faster rate because they don’t go through a period of spawning and all their energy can be put into growing. The farm produces a sustainable yield and is not depleting the resources of the bay because the populations are managed internally. However, it is important to note that this organization is doing nothing to restore wild populations in Chesapeake Bay even though they have the means to do so. Aquaculture is the solution to over harvesting because it is sustainable, creates jobs, and provides delicious seafood for restaurants and other clients all over bay and around the United States.

The ingenuity and efficiency of the farm operation was astounding and had been improving every year, as opposed to the traditional means of harvest that limited efficiency and innovation. I enjoyed our trip to Cherry Stone because it gave us a first hand look into what is being done for the keeping steady populations oysters, clams, fish, and other seafood in the market through the means of aquaculture.

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