Fisheries + Oysters
The Chesapeake Bay is the country’s largest estuary and is ranked third in the nation in fishery catch. The Chesapeake Bay’s commercial fishery includes blue crab, rockfish, menhaden, and oysters, among other species. The sustainability of this industry, worth billions of dollars, hinges on habitat protection, improving water quality, and limiting harvest pressure to manage stable populations.
The blue crab population continues to improve since the low point in 2014. While overfishing devastated stocks of the Chesapeake’s striped bass, or rockfish, in the 1970s, conservation efforts have led to peak recent levels. Rigorous management plans are in force to keep the rockfish population from declining back to unsustainable levels. Menhaden, called the “most important fish in the sea,” have critical value in the Atlantic coast food chain, as they serve as forage fish. Most Atlantic coast menhaden spawn in the Chesapeake Bay. Menhaden are currently overfished, which has led to excessive algae blooms and ecosystem disruption in the Chesapeake Bay.
Both the future health of the Bay and the viability of Maryland’s commercial oyster industry are dependent largely on sustainable oyster management. Historically, oyster populations dramatically dropped due to overfishing from the late 1800s through early 1900s and disease in the 1950s. Oyster populations are only now beginning to recover with the advent of new aquaculture technology and regulatory programs. Oysters are one of our strongest natural allies in the fight to clean-up the Bay due to their remarkable ability to filter algae and sediment from water. In addition, oyster reefs create habitat for marine life, including the blue crab and rockfish. Protecting Bay oysters and aquatic life is fundamentally important to improving the overall health of the Bay and ensuring generations to come can enjoy Bay seafood.