- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

BURGESS, Va. (AP) — State and federal officials hope to protect an anticipated planting of Virginia oysters from cow-nosed rays by surrounding the shellfish with mesh-net fences.

Last summer, hungry rays attacked an unprotected bed of 1 million oysters that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its state partners created in the Great Wicomico River.

Officials don’t want a repeat this year, so their latest plans call for encircling three sites with heavy mesh nets to shield the 15 million disease-resistant oysters that will be planted in the river in the Northern Neck.

“We’re predicting we’re going to get a record spat [young oysters] set that hasn’t been seen in decades,” said Doug Martin, project coordinator for the Corps.

If the planting succeeds, a hearty population of oysters that can tolerate the diseases MSX and Dermo will flood the river. The project is using a disease-resistant strain of native Virginia oyster that was developed at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The two diseases have taken their toll: The Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has fallen to about 2 percent of its former levels. The losses have deprived watermen of the shellfish, once their wintertime mainstay.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) may hold a public hearing on the fence proposal next month.

Plans call for fencing off the planting areas with net mesh that would be wide enough to prevent rays from swimming through ” but too small to stop fish or crabs, said Jack Travelstead, fisheries manager for the VMRC.

The nets would be held in place by poles driven into the bottom and marked with reflective tape.

Cow-nosed rays have always preyed on oysters, said Jim Wesson, the VMRC’s oyster manager. But they have become more of a problem as their population has boomed, he said.

“We seem to be seeing rays in more places than they’ve ever been, and we’re seeing them in greater numbers,” he said.

Rays glide on broad “wings” and feed by rooting up oysters and other shellfish.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide