A trade group is proposing its largest experiment to revive the Chesapeake Bay's oyster industry, seeking to grow 1.3 million sterile nonnative oysters.
The Virginia Seafood Council proposal would "plant" the Asian oysters in the Bay and on the Eastern Shore, starting June 1. "We are very determined to continue forward with this," said Frances Porter, executive director of the Virginia Seafood Council. "It's good for our industry as we continue to develop our markets for the Asian oyster."
The Asian species-known as Crassostrea ariakensis or the Chinese oyster-does not succumb to the same diseases that have plagued native stocks in recent decades. In past trials sponsored by the seafood council, the oysters have grown well in aquaculture and received favorable responses in taste-tests with consumers.
The Asian variety is larger than the native oyster and grows to market size more quickly.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission agreed to vote on the request after a public hearing at its March meeting in Newport News. The Army Corps of Engineers in Norfolk also must approve the experiment.
The 1.3 million oysters would be grown in protective cages or bags at 13 sites in coastal waters. Each would first have to be certified as sexually sterile, and each would have to be removed by June 1, 2009.
Past tests, aimed at learning the oysters' viability in aquaculture, have involved about 1 million oysters each.
Cameron Chalmers expects to grow about 100,000 of the Asian species on leased bottom in waters near First Landing State Park. He has raised the non-natives the last two years at the same locale, and they've won him over. "They grow almost twice as fast" as natives, Chalmers said. "And they don't need as much attention. They're pretty amazing."
All of the Asian oysters used in the council experiments have been reared at a hatchery run by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
The government mandates that the oysters come from the hatchery, given its adherence to mandatory safeguards and quarantines designed to keep the Asian oysters from somehow escaping into the wild, according to the institute.