Virginia’s oyster harvest grows 60 percent in a year

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Virginia’s oyster harvest grew 60 percent last season, marking the commonwealth’s largest oyster harvest since 1987.

During the 2012-2013 season, 406,000 bushels of oysters were harvested, compared with 257,000 during the previous year. In 2001, Virginia’s oyster harvest reached as low as 23,000 bushels.

The harvest growth is because of three main reasons, according to John M.R. Bull, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. In 2008, the VMRC started a rotational harvest system for public water areas. In addition, an oyster replenishment program scatters empty oyster shells on public oyster grounds to provide habitat for oyster larvae to attach to the shells during spawning.

Also, the VMRC has a streamlined regulatory system that allows the state to lease water bottoms at very cheap rates — only $1.50 per acre, according to Bull.

In fact, much of the growth last season came from privately leased oyster grounds. The number of oysters harvested from private operations grew 93 percent to 257,000 bushels, up from 133,000 bushels during the 2011-2012 season.

“When the aquaculture started to take off they found an easy partner at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission,” Bull said.

Oysters harvested from public grounds grew 20 percent to 149,000 bushels.

“There’s been a market demand that previously was un-fillable,” Bull said. “We’re actually in a position to meet the demand.”

Virginia has even been exporting some of its oysters to the Gulf Coast for packing and shipping, Bull said.

In 2014, state money allocated to the oyster replenishment program will pass $2 million for the first time.

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