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Chesapeake Bay – On the Half Shell

Posted by Schaefer's Canal House on 1/23/2015

The waters of the Chesapeake Bay have long sustained life in Maryland, providing both industry and food. Cities and towns sprung up along the banks of its tributaries and quick access to the Atlantic Ocean allowed international trade to flourish and spurred the growth of Baltimore and Annapolis.

Seafood was a staple in every Marylander’s diet from the earliest days of the colony—perch, sturgeon, catfish, oysters, and crabs supplemented settlers’ meals. The Bay’s bounty helped the colonists survive when the harvest failed to yield enough of the standard crops, like corn and wheat, to accommodate the rapid population growth. By the mid-1800s, subsistence fishing grew into a fully-fledged industry and became a vital part of the economy.  Today, the bay is surviving well and one aspect has been the state’s reinvigoration of help in restoring the oyster harvest.

Over the past five years, Maryland and Virginia's oyster harvest has almost quadrupled, and the dockside value of the harvest has increased by 14 percent in the past 10 years. The resurgence is again putting Chesapeake Bay oysters in seafood stores and restaurants around the region, nation and world.

In addition to being an economic driver and a delicious hors d'oeuvre--whether raw, roasted, fried or stewed--oysters play crucial ecological roles. They and their habitat are at once pollution filters, homes for crabs and rockfish and buffers against storms.

However, oyster numbers remain only a fraction of what they once were because of historic overharvesting, pollution and disease, and the bay has suffered from the loss of the great ecological services oysters can provide.  For these reasons, continual effort and help in maintaining and sustaining the oyster habitat is continually provided. Maryland and Virginia are on the cusp of reversing this trend. The states are leaders in facilitating large-scale restoration in partnership with the federal government and the private sector.

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