Aquaculture for all

Oyster restoration effort brings 2 million spat to the York River

US - In 18 months to two years, the mesh bags of baby oysters scattered into the York River could yield hundreds of bushels of market-sized oysters.

To reach that point, the 2 million spat will have to survive the forces that have depleted stocks of the briny catch in the Chesapeake Bay -- disease, pollution and, more recently, cownosed rays.

"This is an alternative way to keep oystermen oystering and watermen on the water," said Tommy Leggett, an oyster specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation environmental group.

As volunteers emptied the mesh sacks, Leggett maneuvered a foundation oyster boat, Chesapeake Gold, over a half-acre of river bottom 10 miles upriver from the Coleman Bridge.

The fingernail-size spat are the offspring of two strains of native oysters bred to withstand damage from disease-causing parasites Dermo and MSX.

As another precaution, the spat were allowed to attach to 200 bushels of natural oyster shells while soaking in nursery tanks. The 3- and 4-inch-long shells make it harder for the predatory rays to scoop up tasty young.

An expected yield would be 300 to 400 bushels of market-size oysters worth just enough to offset the $12,000 cost of the project, said Lake Cowart Jr., head of Cowart Seafood Corp., near Lottsburg.

Cowart, who supplied a portion of his leased oyster grounds to grow the oysters, is a partner in the effort designed to advance aquaculture. The Bay Foundation and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science are the other principals in the state grant financed through the sale of Chesapeake Bay vehicle license plates.

Source: The Daily Times
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