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Maryland’s oyster harvest largest in 35 years

Maryland is seeing its largest oyster harvest in nearly 40 years, one industry expert said.

Bill Sieling, executive vice president of Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, attributes the excellent haul to both Mother Nature and the canniness of the Maryland oyster industry in putting available resources to their best use.

“The combination of having the good substrate there for the young oysters to set upon and then having the oysters available in the area to produce the spawn which is what produces the spat set and therefore had a place to set and grow – and it’s as simple as that,” he told The Center Square.

Surpassing recent years of growth, the state is basking in an estimated ingathering of 511,000 bushels of the bivalves, which is 178,000 more than last year’s harvest, the Bay Journal reported. The final tally has yet to be calculated.

Taking money from all the various channels available, including state dollars, oyster farmers built up substrates by putting old shells in places known to attract good spat sets, according to Sieling.

It takes three years for an oyster to grow to legal market size. This year’s harvest was the culmination of years of investment in the Bay’s oyster growing conditions, Sieling said.

The last time Maryland watermen pulled in this many oysters was in the 1986–87 season, the Journal reported, also noting it may signal recovery from diseases that have stunted harvests since then.

“In the past, we’ve had terrible issues with diseases – Dermo in particular, which does kill oysters,” Sieling said.

But, he added, the diseases are cyclical.

“We don’t understand why they do become less prevalent sometimes and more prevalent other times,” he said. “It’s still a mystery we don’t understand. But all we can tell you right now is that right now these diseases seem to be on the wane.”

The oyster industry as a whole in the Free State is doing well, according to Sieling.

“We had all the oysters we could use in Maryland for our processors and so forth – it couldn’t have been much better,” he said.

Delays in an already small pool of extra H-2B visas, which some sectors of Maryland’s seafood industry rely on, haven’t affected the oyster division, Sieling said.

The oyster industry has learned to work around it, he pointed out.

This season’s massive haul does not bring with it concerns about sustainability, assured Sieling.

Laws ensure Maryland’s oysters do not suffer overharvesting. Maryland oystermen are limited to a certain quota of oysters every year, according to Sieling.

This article was originally posted on Maryland’s oyster harvest largest in 35 years

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