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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Asian oysters off the Bay menu?


A surprising development in Virginia may mean the end - at least for now - of the debate over whether Asian oysters have any place in the Chesapeake Bay.

On Tuesday, the Virginia Seafood Council abruptly withdrew its request to raise 1.1 million Asian oysters in 11 locations around the bay. The oysters would have been genetically modified and bred to be sterile, though critics have said there is still at least a slight chance that some would be able to reproduce.

In a statement read at a hearing before the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Frances W. Porter, the seafood council's executive director, said the group remained "firm in its confidence in the Asian oysters, but we have exhausted our negotiating capabilities with federal and state authorities."

According to this story by Scott Harper in the Virginian-Pilot, Porter said the council dropped its push for the Asian oyster field trials after "conversations with unnamed state officials over the weekend."

Porter also said the group believed that the Asian oyster would never realize its potential as an aquaculture product, and that Virginia's oyster industry would never be restored to its historic prominence.

The withdrawal comes on the eve of a conference call scheduled Wednesday between Maryland and Virginia natural resources officials and the Army Corps commander to try to reach agreement on whether even sterilized Asian oysters should have a role in restoring the bay's oysters.

Watermen and seafood businesses in both states contend that years of costly efforts to restore the bay's native oysters after decades of devastation by habitat loss and disease have not succeeded. They have pressed for permission to try Asian oysters, since they have proven to resist the diseases killing off native bivalves.

A four-year scientific study of how to restore the bay's oysters, however, said there were uncertainties about whether the non-native bivalve could be grown in a controlled way that would prevent it from spreading.


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