A new study of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population revealed that there are currently only three oysters for every thousand that once populated the bay before their commercial fishing began in earnest in the 19th century.
According to an article in The Sun, several reefs have already been declared oyster sanctuaries, but the scientists who conducted the study are calling for an outright ban on oyster harvesting throughout the entire bay.
Overfishing isn’t the only culprit in the animal’s dwindling population. Two different diseases have been plaguing oysters in the bay since the 1980s. Watermen, who harvest the oysters, blame the diseases primarily for the low numbers, and consider the protected reefs as a suitable measure.
But are we okay with driving oysters to extinction everywhere but those sanctuaries? Baltimore’s identity cannot be separated from the ecological reality of the Chesapeake Bay. Oysters and blue crabs are more than a convenient Baltimore mascot (like Mr. Boh or the Utz girl), they are integral to our cultural history, and important partners in our eco-system.
If left to its own devices, nature usually does a good job of recovering, even after catastrophe (check the mutated but thriving animal populations living in the Chernobyl blast zone). Maybe we ought to cease harvesting oysters for a few years and see what happens.