On November 10, 2015, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office announced that the Commonwealth’s commercial oyster harvest in 2014-15 was almost 659,000 bushes, a 24-percent increase over 2013-14 (about 532,000 bushels) and the largest since 1986-87 (about 781,000 bushels). This harvest was still far below, however, the harvests of 3 to 4 million bushels per year in the late 1950s. (Information on the history of Virginia’s oyster harvests is available from the VMRC online at http://www.mrc.state.va.us/SMAC/VA-Oyster-Harvests.pdf.)
The 2014-15 harvest from privately leased bottomlands was about 357,000 bushels; from wild oyster beds on public bottomlands, about 302,000 bushels. The dockside value of the 2014-15 harvest was $33.8 million.
According to the governor’s office’s news release on the harvest, “The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) manages the oyster stocks through rotational oyster harvest areas and by spreading fossil oyster shells mined annually from beneath the James River on public oyster grounds in its oyster replenishment program. These fossil shells become home for naturally occurring oyster larvae that attach to them during spawning and grow to form new adult oysters that will reach market size in roughly three years. This oyster replenishment program provides significant ecological as well as economic benefits. … The VMRC also leases water bottoms for the purpose of propagating oysters…and now has more than 121,000 acres under lease to Virginia citizens and businesses. This is the highest acreage under lease since the 1960s.”
Sources: Virginia Oyster Harvests Continue to Soar; Last year’s harvest increased to the highest level since 1986, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 11/10/15; and Virginia oyster harvest up 24 percent in 2014, Associated Press, as published by Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/10/15.
For two audio takes on oysters and oystering in Virginia and elsewhere, have a listen to Virginia Water Radio episodes 279 (8-24-15) and 280 (9-7-15), “Oysters, Nitrogen and the Chesapeake Bay,” parts 1 and 2, respectively.