- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

GRASONVILLE, Md. (AP) — Oyster season in the Chesapeake Bay is off to a good start, watermen say.

The season, which started Monday and runs until March 30, is particularly strong in Maryland waters, though some dead oysters are being found in Virginia’s James River.

In Virginia, dry weather conditions set the stage for oyster-killing parasites blamed for catches that were as much as 90 percent dead, environmental specialists said.

In Maryland, “what they are finding are monster oysters, nice, big oysters. They’re beautiful,” waterman Kevin Marshall told the Baltimore Examiner.

Right now watermen are diving for and tonging the oysters. Next month, they will be allowed to begin power dredging.

Prices in the early season were about $30 a bushel, a daily payoff of about $450 for a waterman who catches his full 15 bushel daily limit.

“Up the Bay around Annapolis and Rock Hall and those places, they had their limits before noon,” Mr. Marshall said.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Waterman’s Association, said early signs point to a strong oyster season.

“I have heard the last few days everyone is catching their limit. That’s a good sign this time of year. For them to be medium fat is really good for this time of year,” Mr. Simns told the newspaper.

However, Mr. Simns added that oysters have had a high death rate in the James River this year.

The water there is saltier, which creates a more potent breeding ground for parasitic organisms that kill oysters.

Tom O’Connell, oyster specialist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, agreed the oyster season appears healthy compared with recent years.

“It looks like we are going to have an OK fishery this year, but its nothing compared to what we had historically,” Mr. O’Connell said.

Mr. O’Connell said watermen may have June rains to thank for easy catches so far this season. He said the state agency would complete an annual oyster survey by around Thanksgiving.

Virginia’s oyster harvest, once millions strong, has declined since the mid-1980s, when the lethal diseases first began striking. In recent years, however, the trend slowed.

Last year’s harvest reached 100,000 bushels, the highest in years.

Poor crab catches this summer had watermen hoping for a good oyster season to recover.

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