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Harvest of bay oysters could be smallest ever

Outlook: Biologists finishing a fall survey of the population say the main culprit is the long drought that brought saltier water and a habitat favorable to diseases MSX and Dermo.

November 19, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Asian oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, looks and tastes a lot like the native bay oyster, and early experiments suggest that it might be resistant to the diseases.

The Virginia Seafood Council, a trade group, hoped to "plant" 1 million baby Asian oysters -- neutered to prevent them from reproducing -- in the bay in the summer as an experiment.

But the plans were shelved in May after federal and state scientists warned that the experiment might have disastrous results. The Asian oyster, which has no known natural enemies, might wreak environmental havoc, they said, bringing some undiscovered disease, crowding out native oysters or causing some unforeseen damage.

The release into a Crofton pond this year of a snakehead, an Asian import with a reputation for devouring all other fish, alarmed biologists and sparked a crackdown on marketing of the species. The fish thrived in the pond because it had no natural enemies.

Maryland and Virginia officials are awaiting the findings of a National Academy of Sciences study of the Asian oyster that will be completed by next summer, said John Surrick, a DNR spokesman.

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