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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Oyster season could be extended on the lower Rappahannock River
by Larry S. Chowning, Rappahanock Record

NEWPORT NEWS-The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) will consider opening commercial oyster harvesting areas on the Rappahannock River from the Robert O. Norris Jr. Memorial Bridge at Topping to the mouth of the river at Deltaville on Tuesday, January 24.

The oyster season is scheduled to close the end of January, but VMRC will also consider a proposal to extend the commercial oyster season by two months for hand-scraping.

The commission also will consider opening grounds in the James River seed area.

Jack Travelstead, chief of the VMRC Fisheries Management Division, said the area from the mouth of the Rappahannock to the bridge has been completely closed to oystering for six years and portions of the area have been closed for 15 years.

The area includes oyster reef areas that were created and funded by federal dollars. It is estimated there are about six to seven thousand bushels of oysters in that area.

Virginia Institute of Marine Science officials are not recommending commercial harvests in this area because scientists believe it should be left as a sanctuary for seed and growth.

Local watermen contend that the oyster beds need to be cultivated so mud and silt do not cover oysters and suffocate the bivalve.

Virginia oystermen are now getting the highest price in history at the dock for a bushel of oysters. This record price is due, in part, to the fact that no Gulf Coast oysters are available because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Area oystermen are receiving from $32 to $40 per bushel at the dock.

At the beginning of the season in October, in anticipation of a shortage, VMRC increased the oyster harvest limit per boat from 8 bushels per person in 2004 to 12 bushels per person in 2005-06 and opened more grounds above the bridge.

Watermen are using narrow oysters dredges, referred to as hand dredges, to harvest the oysters. There is always a controversy surrounding the use of a dredge. The use of traditional shaft tongs, which are pulled to the surface by hand, is considered by some to be more environmentally sound than dredging the river bottom.

The harvest on the Rappahannock and James rivers has been good this year. Travelstead said 100,000 bushels have been harvested in Virginia waters. In some recent years, the harvest has been as low as 20,000 bushels.

Although there are more oysters, Travelstead is cautious and says weather conditions from 2002 through 2005 have contributed to the rise in catch and growth of local oysters. If those weather conditions change, the oyster disease MSX, which has been in bay waters since 1959, will continue to kill oysters.

MSX and Dermo, another oyster disease, have devastated the Chesapeake Bay oyster industry, once the largest in the United States, in recent decades. MSX is a bacteria that does not impact humans, but kills oysters just months before they reach market size.

"We had a good spat set in 2002 because, we think, it was a dry year," said Travelstead. "It was followed by two extremely wet years that lowered the salinity on the bay and this helped keep the disease in check."

MSX has more impact on the mortality of oysters in high-salinity waters.

The James is experiencing a boom oyster year and watermen in that area are also requesting oyster grounds be opened that have been closed for years.

There is also an increase in the number of applicants for state-leased oyster grounds. VMRC reports indicate there have been applications for 7,767 acres of new grounds this year. Last year, there was an increase of 2,427 acres statewide. The Commonwealth leases 102,000 acres of oyster bottom.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I just barely caught it on the radio this morning but I believe they said that the areas remained closed, however, the did extend the harvest by a month. Again, I think that is what I heard.
 

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The two areas kept that they kept the rules the same are the James river between the Pagan River and the Idle Fleet, will only be opened for hand tonging and the Lower Rapp will remain closed. The 1 month extension was in the James more or less below the Pagan River.

Tom
 
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