The Virginia Seafood Council has proposed a project to continue testing the feasibility of growing nonnative oysters in aquaculture.
Under a plan presented to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in February, 15 growers would cultivate a total of 1.5 million Crassostrea ariakensis oysters in 15 sites in the Bay, its tributaries and the sea side of the Eastern Shore.
The hatchery-reared oysters would be specially bred to be sterile, as in past experiments, to reduce the risk of an accidental introduction of a breeding population in the Chesapeake Bay.
Past tests have shown that the oysters, a native of Asia, grow fast and are resistant to the diseases that have plagued the Bay’s native oyster, C. virginica, whose population is at a near-record low in the Chesapeake.
Tests have also indicated that aquaculture production of the oysters may be profitable for growers. Nine growers involved in 2005 netted an average profit of $10,000 with the non-native oysters, selling the shellfish to local shucking houses, restaurants and consumers.
If approved, it would be the council’s sixth test with the nonnative oyster
Thirteen growers are wrapping up the most recent trial, which included 1.3 million shellfish. By regulation, the oysters in the current trial must be harvested by the end of May. The council wants to begin raising its next batch of oysters June 1.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science has recommended approval of the project.
The VMRC has until the end of April to act on the request, which must also be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Information from the studies is also being used as part of a multiyear study under way by Virginia, Maryland and the federal government to review the risks and benefits of a variety of oyster management options in the Bay, including an introduction of a breeding population of C. ariakensis oysters.
But the draft Environmental Impact Statement, expected late this spring, is also examining other options, including the aquaculture potential for both native and nonnative oysters.