Oyster Farms Making a Comeback

Oyster business is booming in Virginia and farmers say it all has to do with water quality.

Courtesy: NOAA

January 10, 2013

Dudley Biddlecomb has been an oyster farmer for so long, he doesn't remember when he started. Born on the Chesapeake Bay, oyster farming is in his blood. The Biddlecomb family has been in the oyster business for over one hundred years and say productivity is on the rise after a decades-long decline.

"I think the water quality has greatly improved over the years," Biddlecomb said. "People are more conscious of the run-off and pollution."

Biddlecomb and his nephew made the 150 mile trek from Reedville to speak with a class at the University of Virginia about the emerging field of aquaculture and his work to restore oysters to the Bay.

"I learned a lot about what goes in to aquaculture and the history," said Beth Olberdingy, a fourth year student in the "Oceans in Captivity" J-term class taught by Professor Steve Macko at UVa. "I already knew most of the biology behind it, but I thought it was interesting to learn how they adapt to the changes in pollution."

Charlottesville is in the Chesapeake watershed, which means run-off from fertilizer flows into the Bay. But as oyster farming slowly returns to the Bay, Biddlecomb says there is still a lot of work to be done to restore productivity.

"The shucking and packing houses have disappeared," Biddlecomb said. "The whole infrastructure has to make a recovery.

Where there used to be sixty oyster houses, only six are in operation today. But Biddlecomb is determined to bring it back.

"I hate to brag, but I think Virginia has got a little edge on Maryland when it comes to oysters," Biddlecomb said.

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