- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NEWPORT NEWS (AP) — Virginia’s seafood industry is asking state and federal officials to approve the largest trial of growing Asian oysters in the Chesapeake Bay since such tests began in 2000.

The Virginia Seafood Council wants to grow 1.3 million sterile baby oysters of the Crassostrea ariakensis variety, beginning in June.

The council’s proposal was to go before the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s meeting yesterday in Newport News. The plan also must be approved by the federal Army Corps of Engineers. The oysters would have to be removed by June 1, 2009.

Disease has been killing off Virginia’s native oyster, whose demise has crippled the Bay’s natural filtering capability. Asian oysters aren’t prone to the diseases, but scientific concerns have delayed efforts to grow them commercially.

Scientists worry that the nonnative species could bring unintended consequences.

No more trials were planned after 2007. But last year, federal officials asked for more environmental studies. A draft environmental-impact statement by the Army Corps of Engineers is due June 1, and a final report could be completed by the end of the year.

Tommy Mason, of Mason Seafood, in Chincoteague, has grown Asian oysters in every trial and will grow 100,000 more this year.

The baby oysters are made sterile at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science so they cannot reproduce.

Mr. Mason said he had no problem marketing the Asian product. He sells almost all in Chincoteague for shucking and to be served on the half-shell.

He also grows clams and native Virginia oysters using similar controlled “aquaculture” methods that he uses with the Asian oysters. The shellfish are grown in enclosed mesh bags and floats. Side by side, his Asian oysters have produced nearly double the yield of the natives.

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