Shellfishing has returned to Virginia's Lynnhaven River, where pollution has kept watermen away from some sections of the river for a generation.
The state health department has found the river clean enough to reopen 1,450 acres to oyster and clam harvesting. Some of the newly reopened waters had been closed to shellfish harvesting since the 1930s.
The Lynnhaven, which slices into Virginia Beach from the Chesapeake Bay, will be monitored to make sure test results were not related to the drought, said Bob Croonenberghs, director of the state Bureau of Shellfish Sanitation. He said the city and the community appear to have gotten together and made a difference. "I think it could be a national model."
The cleanup could revive Lynnhaven's commercial oyster industry, which once employed dozens of workers and marketed the salty treat to seafood restaurants along the East Coast.
Since the partial reopening in late November, Lynnhaven oysters have already been showing up on local menus.
Officials credit the cleanup to several factors, including new sewer lines, a ban on boats discharging their waste tanks into the river and pet owners picking up after their dogs.
Karen Forget, director of the environmental group Lynnhaven River Now, said the Lynnhaven and most rivers of the lower Bay still have many problems. Fertilizer and waste feed algae blooms, which suck oxygen from the water and choke aquatic grasses.
The Lynnhaven watershed is home to more than 200,000 people-almost half of Virginia Beach's population.
The Lynnhaven once supported several small commercial oyster businesses, but as Virginia Beach boomed in the 1960s and 1970s, more and more of the river was closed because of high levels of bacteria.
Oysters filter the water they inhabit so they can be grown in closed sections of a waterway, transferred to clean water for 15 days and then sold. But the added cost of having to move the oysters drove the old Lynnhaven oystermen out of business.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Army Corps of Engineers have been trying to restore the Lynnhaven's native oyster population by planting artificial reefs where baby oysters can attach themselves and grow.
Jim Wesson of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission said a healthy Lynnhaven River could potentially produce several million shellfish a year.