The number of oyster bushels and the number of licenses sold are up compared to the past two years, according to reports detailed in the Potomac River Fisheries Commission’s Oyster-Clam Advisory Committee meeting this month.
To date, a total of 2,757 bushels of oysters have been harvested with an estimated value of $89,000. This is an increase from the previous season’s totals of 341 bushels and 366 the season prior to that.
The number of licenses were also up with 35 vessel licenses sold compared to six the two previous seasons. The vast majority of oysters pulled in came from the St. Georges oyster bar, 1638 bushels.
According to several of the committee members, it is thought that a couple boats saw that there were oysters closing in on marketable size last year, so that as soon as this season opened, they headed there.
These numbers only include the Potomac River and not any of its tributaries.
The committee also discussed the Rotational Natural Oyster Harvest Plan (RNOH) which calls for the planting of the first set of diploid oysters. The five bars in line for the program are: Swan Point,Cedar Point, Pascahanna, Stony Point and Gum Bar all located in Potomac River.
RNOH is a five year planned test run to see if planting natural diploid oyster seed, on a rotational basis, will help bring back the oyster fishery to levels of yesteryear. Each year one of the name bars will be shut down to oyster fishing, planted with the diploid seed, and reopened at the four year point to those oystermen who have invested in the program.
Currently, there are 20 oystermen in the original test group. Each member has paid a $500 fee, per year, to be involved in the program. Those monies, along with $50,000 per year from the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, are to be used to run the program and purchase the needed seed. It is planned that the diploid seed will be purchased from sources within the Chesapeake Bay water system.
At the end of the growth period, each bar will be opened for harvest by hand tonging only. The dates will be set by committee to work best with the market pricing and will close when 65-70% of the planted oysters have been harvested. This is done in order to leave breeding stock on each bar.
In an unanimous decision, the committee voted to leave the oyster bushel measurements as they already are, as well as to leave the oyster catch limits as they are, with a time limit versus a bushel limit, stating that they could come back at another date if a change was needed.
The next meeting of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission is March 8 at 9 a.m. at the commission building in Colonial Beach.