Decline of Oysters in the Chesapeake Bay
Early American settlers marveled at the vibrant marine life of the Chesapeake Bay, describing crystal clear waters, underwater mountains of oysters, and schools of fish so massive that passing sailors would catch them with pots and pans. Oysters were so abundant that early maps recorded reef locations to help ships navigate around banks of oysters that reached as high as the water’s surface. Researchers estimate that the pre-colonial oyster population could filter the entire Chesapeake Bay in about 3 days. By 1988 that time had increased to over 325 days.
Over-harvesting, disease, and habitat loss has depleted 99.7% of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population since the 1800s. By the 1970s the Bay had turned dark and contained one of the planet’s first identified “marine dead zones” where water had become so depleted of oxygen that it is no longer able to support life. But things are beginning to turn around.
Recent government initiatives, nonprofit groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the rise of sustainable aquaculture practices are working to restore the vital shellfish population and revitalize the Chesapeake Bay. Ocean Cove Seafood is committed to this effort and we’re proud to provide products that taste great, contribute to the Eastern Shore economy, and help restore the environment for years to come.
Rebuilding the Environment
We purchase millions of seed clams and oysters each year and raise them in nursery beds for several months until they are large enough to be continue growing in their natural habitat in the Chesapeake Bay and Seaside of the Eastern Shore. Aquaculture of clams and oysters provides a natural, sustainable source of shellfish that play an important role replenishing the marine ecosystem as they grow. Clams and oysters act as natural water filters, feeding on potentially harmful plankton, phosphates, nitrogen compounds, and other organic matter. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Known as “ecosystem engineers,” shellfish can create and support entire ecosystems – and their absence can have devastating effects.
For example, shellfish filter out pollutants and particles that cloud water, allowing more sunlight to reach the sub-aquatic bottom. Additional sunlight spurs the growth of primary producers like grasses and other underwater vegetation that serve as a food source for small herbivores like fish, shrimp, and snails. These animals clean the water further and support larger predators, forming a food chain and foundation for a flourishing ecosystem.
Learn about the aquaculture process and how we harvest, grade, and package clams and oysters by hand in their natural habitat off of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.