Monday, April 06, 2009

Asians banned from the Chesapeake Bay

Asian oysters will not be allowed to populate the Chesapeake Bay, despite declines in native oyster populations.

Is this xenophobic protectionism or smart ecology? Opinions differ.

The native Eastern Oyster, reduced 99% by overfishing and disease, is in trouble despite officials spending many millions of dollars in efforts to bring them back.

Asian oysters were touted as a possible ecological replacement by some, in hopes that they would help filter the water and provide income to watermen who could farm and sell the oysters.

According to the Washington Post:

Today's announcement also marks the end of discussions over the past few weeks, which began with Virginia officials for Asian oyster farms, Maryland officials against them, and the Corps in the middle. A number of federal agencies and environmental groups had also weighed in against the Asian oyster, saying the risk of it escaping and playing havoc in the Chesapeake's battered ecosystem was too high.

Could it be that it's time for ecological replacement therapy in the Chesapeake? Shall we hold out for species purity even where the need for oysters is great and the native species seems unable to mount a comeback? I don't know, but I wonder.

Introduced species are usually a problem, even when well-intentioned. But can we hold out for native species entirely in a warming world in desperate need of ecosystem services like those oysters can provide? I have a feeling this is an issue that will receive more, not less debate in the future.

For now, let's cheer for oyster restoration projects, in the hope that the native Chesapeake oyster will come roaring back.


Eric Heupel said...

This has been such a thorny issue. I didn't see in the Wash Post piece a final reason for banning them: disease, fungus refuge, loss of sterility etc..

A very nice brief overview (pdf) of the issues involved was done by VIMS'S Dr Mark Luckenbach.

I just hope the C. virginica can be restored in all it's former glory...or at least c. 1900 glory. But I doubt I'll ever see it restored to 1980 populations.

Christie said...

I have to agree that it is most prudent thing not to introduce them.

Rik said...

Here in Holland the Dutch flat oyster is almost reduced to nothingness due to the introduction of the Japanese oyster which is considered of a lesser quality. But the question remains whether it is possible to prevent the introduction of foreign species when the original speciesare so much reduced in numbers.

Capt. Dave said...

I didn't see a reason in the WaPo piece either. All I can say is that it is not a good time to be a waterman. Regardless of whether or not they caused the problem themselves, this news on top of the possibility of crab houses shutting down due to not being able to obtain visas for their immigrant workers, and increased regulations from the state of Maryland on their catches, it's not a good situation at all for them.