The Chesapeake Bay's beleaguered oyster population spawned a bumper crop of babies last year, state officials announced Monday, and there are signs that the diseases that have ravaged the bay's bivalves for more than two decades might have loosened their stranglehold.
Gov. Martin O'Malley heralded the "exciting new evidence" from the state's recently completed survey of Maryland waters, adding in a statement that there is "reason to be more optimistic than ever about the recovery of this iconic species."
Others, while encouraged, were more cautious, noting that the bay's oysters have dwindled to 1 percent or 2 percent of their historic abundance, and that at least some of the apparent rebound may stem from favorable weather conditions over the past several years, which are unlikely to last forever.
The two-month survey by the Department of Natural Resources found an average of nearly 80 baby oysters, called spat, in every bushel of shells dredged up from 260 locations checked throughout the bay and its rivers. That's the highest tally recorded since 1997.
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