Crowded VA Oyster Grounds Causing Safety Concerns

URBANNA—Local oystermen working on public oyster grounds have the daily challenge of dredging up enough oysters to make a day’s wage, and also not getting run over by the mass of boats working side-by-side on the grounds.

In an effort to maintain a sustainable fishery, Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) alternates the rotation of public oyster grounds on three-year cycles. After harvest time, grounds are closed, reseeded and left to nature’s hands for three years. The next year oystermen work beds that are at the top of the rotation. This method has worked and has provided steady annual employment for the nearly 1,000 licensed oystermen in the state, but has at times created a less than safe work-place environment.

Virginia’s oyster industry has grown from a low of 24,000 bushels harvested statewide in 2003 to a high of 659,000 bushels in 2014 with a dockside value of $33.8 million. Licenses in the public fisheries have grown from 661 in 2013, to 877 in 2014, to 991 in 2015.

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