Low Salinities Deliver Blow to Chesapeake Bay Oysters

An extremely wet winter, spring and early summer in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has hampered oyster aquaculture and restoration efforts, and negatively impacted wild oyster populations
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An intern at the Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland, looks for signs of spawning in an oyster hatchery table. Low salinities have impacted the facility's ability to produce oyster seed and spat on shell for the aquaculture industry and oyster restoration efforts. 

An intern at the Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland, looks for signs of spawning in an oyster hatchery table. Low salinities have impacted the facility's ability to produce oyster seed and spat on shell for the aquaculture industry and oyster restoration efforts. 

The Chesapeake Bay region is officially in the middle of a moderate drought, but don’t tell that to oyster farmers, oyster hatcheries and other oyster-related businesses. Only a few months ago, record-breaking rainfall left the bay’s waters so devoid of salt that oyster hatcheries could not get their oysters to spawn and oyster farmers were reporting die-offs.

This year, for much of the hatchery season, Horn Point Laboratory scientists were reporting salinities as low as 5 parts per thousand in the Choptank River. Oysters require salinities of at least 10 parts per thousand to thrive and develop the gametes (eggs and sperm) required for reproduction. By the end of the season, the hatchery had fallen way short of its usual production, which can be as many as 1.78 billion oysters.

Thankfully, there’s good news. That aforementioned drought has increased salinities in the Bay, and oyster farmers and hatcheries were able to kick off at least a semi-productive season. This article by the Bay Journal has more.