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Document Type

Book Chapter


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Paula Hill and Steve Nelson, editors

Publication Date


Book Title

Toward a Sustainable Coastal Watershed: The Chesapeake Experiment. Proceedings of a Conference 1-3 June 1994. Norfolk, VA


Chesapeake Research Consortium


Edgewater, MD


Chesapeake Research Consortium Publication No. 149


The 243,000 acres of Virginia's public oyster reefs (a.k.a. the Baylor Grounds) have been extremely productive of usable and saleable (market .md seed) oysters (Crassostrea virginica), oyster shells and oyster shell by-products. Archaeological remains and historical records show that they have yielded great numbers of whole oysters, oyster meats, oyster "seed" and shell since the 01esapeake was formed some 3,000 years BP. In the last century their natural productivity, as indicated by commercial harvest records (the only long-term data available), has declined markedly. In 1904, Vrrginia's total market (adult) oyster harvest was about 7.6 million bushels (mostly from public grounds). By 1930, roughly a quarter-century later, the haivest from public grounds was some 1 million Va. bu. - somewhat less than a seven-fold decline from the total of 190t By 1957, again about a quarter-century later, the public market oyster harvest was 586,000 Va. bu. - about a ten-fold reduction. This was two years before mortalities attributed to "MSX" were observed in the Chesapeake. Disease did not cause these long-term declines! Neither increasing, but ineffectual, management efforts nor public ostreiculture prevented them The downward trend continues.

Of the 243,000 acres of Virginia's public grounds, 199,000 are in the Chesapeake and its tributary estuaries. During the 1993-94 harvest year, only 5,484 Va. bushels of market oysters were recorded from the reefs in all of those 19,000 acres of public grounds. Of them, 5,173 Va. bushels came from about 3,500 acres of James River "seed" oyster beds above Wreck Shoal. The rest of the Baylor acres in the Chesapeake, some 196,000 acres, produced only 311 bushels. As an economic entity Virginia's public oyster resource outside of the James seems economically defunct and the James is fading fast away.

The Precarious State Of The Chesapeake Public Oyster Resource