VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Virginia’s oyster population is booming and local experts say oysters are the healthiest they’ve been in decades.
Oysters are typically harvested between October and March, but with such a healthy stock this year, that harvest is being extended into April for the first time in decades.
“Oysters have been doing well in the Commonwealth,” said Chris Moore, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Moore tells 10 On Your Side conservation efforts are paying off.
“Our oysters are not affected as much by diseases as they used to be,” Moore said. “They’ve been having good reproduction over the last couple of years and they’re continuing to grow well.”
Moore explained that a typical wild oyster harvest reaches around 300,000 bushels per year, but paired with the foundation’s aquaculture initiatives, they can harvest double that amount. It also helps that millions of oysters are going into the bay each year, further bulking up the supply.
“We can produce up to about 15 million baby oysters a year,” said Jackie Shannon, CBF’s restoration manager.
Shannon’s team uses large tanks to grow baby oysters before releasing them into the wild.
“These are probably about three years old at this point based on the size of them but they’re all still attached to an oyster shell,” Shannon said as she showcased a cluster of fresh oysters. “It really just shows the habitat value of an oyster shell, and what’s also really cool is you can see wild oysters on here too. The longer you look at it, the more life starts coming out of it.”
Oysters are natural filter feeders, and the more oysters in the bay, the better the water quality, which contributes to healthy oysters.
“We’re continuing to slowly improve water quality which is a good thing,” Moore said. “We’ve invested both at the state and federal level oyster restoration efforts which is helping and also we’re getting help from mother nature as well.”
As for how much of an impact the state’s 10-day extension will have on this season’s oyster harvest, it’s too soon to tell.
There’s currently a bill on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk that would further oyster conservation efforts. Businesses that recycle oyster shells would receive a $4 tax credit per bushel up to $1,500. Youngkin has until March 27 to sign the bill into law.