Skip to comments.Rays run oyster project awry (Govt Planning at its best)
Posted on 08/24/2004 2:18:51 AM PDT by leadhead
The first strike this summer in a much-anticipated carpet-bombing campaign to restore native oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has turned out to be a big dud.
One million baby oysters, costing about $78,000, were scattered on an artificial reef in June in the Great Wicomico River , near the Virginia-Maryland border, and almost all of the transplants were devoured in one day by a school of cow-nosed rays.
The kite-shaped cousins of sting rays, also known as skates or bullfish, are found commonly in the Bay during summer months.
We didnt really know anything about the cow-nosed ray, said Doug Martin , project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers in Norfolk, lead agency for the multimillion-dollar oyster initiative. It kind of surprised us.
Bay fishermen, scientists and watermen know all about rays and their appetite for shellfish, and the lapse in planning has renewed questions about why the Army Corps, with little experience in oyster biology, is heading a major oyster restoration project.
Also, several experts in Virginia and Maryland had warned the corps in 2002 that predators might wreak havoc with its plans for spreading tens of millions of culchless oysters onto man-made reefs in an attempt to jump-start a biological comeback.
Culchless oysters are those grown on shards of old oyster shells, rather than on heavier, whole shells. They therefore are considered less protected from predators. Maryland, for example, does not use cul chless oysters in its own restoration program, in part because of their susceptibility to being eaten by predators .
Rays generally can more easily lift these lighter, culchless oysters to their powerful mouths, said Richard Takacs , a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Annapolis, Md. The corps spent almost $2 million this year to launch its oyster program in the Great Wicomico River, located on Virginias Northern Neck peninsula, between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers. The Great Wicomico is supposed to be a demonstration project for the carpet-bombing theory of oyster recovery, in which deadly diseases are overwhelmed with massive plantings of genetically engineered baby oysters, or seed. In response to the kill, on June 16 , the corps temporarily halted seed planting, but will try again this fall, spending an additional $1.8 million to experiment with several safeguards against hungry rays, Martin said.
For example, t he corps has constructed a large metal fence around a man-made reef, with an eye toward building similar fencing elsewhere an option never tried before in field biology. It also has placed covered trays of baby oysters on the reefs, an alternative that some scientists fear may squish aquatic life trapped underneath. The feeding frenzy in the Great Wicomico is an inauspicious beginning to an ambitious project in the works for almost two years. Congress has fueled much of the effort with millions of dollars for reef construction and for growing millions of baby oysters.
York River Yacht Haven , a marina and oyster farm near Gloucester, won a contract worth as much as $10 million to supply the corps with disease-resista nt seed for at least the next three years .
The corps did not publicly disclose its loss of so many oysters in the Great Wicomico, or its response to the rays, until asked about the episode last week by The Virginian-Pilot.
Each measuring about 3 feet wide and brownish in color, cow-nosed rays are going to be another issue we have to deal with, Martin said. Were learning as we go with all of this.
He said other planned oyster-recovery projects, including those in Hampton Roads in the Lynnhaven, Nansemond and Elizabeth rivers, will likely require expensive bio-secur ity measures as well. Our costs are definitely going to be higher, Martin said. But we dont really have a choice.
Over the past several decades, diseases known as MSX and Dermo , along with overfishing and lost habitat, have nearly wiped out oyster stocks in the Chesapeake Bay, where they once were huge money-makers and key filters of pollutants.
State and federal governments have struggled for years to turn this tide, with limited success. Seafood merchants are hopeful now that a foreign species from Asia, known as ariakensis or Suminoe, can survive MSX and Dermo and repopulate the Bay.
The Asian oyster is being tested in the Bay today, but some scientists and environmental groups fear unforeseen consequences from introducing an exotic species without years of study.
Rob Brumbaugh , a fisheries biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Virginia, said a population increase of rays has become a major obstacle to oyster recovery in certain waters, rivaling MSX and Dermo.
He has seen the marine animals absolutely hammering oysters on artificial reefs in the Lynnhaven River. But, oddly, the rays will leave oysters on the other side of those same reefs alone.
The experience of the Great Wicomico should not deter the corps or the cause of native oyster restoration.
Youre never going to prevent predation, but you can expand restoration, Brumbaugh said.
I hope people dont come away from this saying, 'Well, all were doing with all this money is feeding cow-nosed rays, he said.
Reach Scott Harper at 446-2340 or at email@example.com
start a farm.....
Forget to erect the fox fence
You know what they say about oysters.
Anyone know why the Army Corps of Engineers is involved in this, or what legislation is funding this?
Rush needs to see this. Hilarious!
your tax dollars herd at work feeding the hungry - rays. LOL~!
'Well, all were doing with all this money is feeding cow-nosed rays oops I said it.
but everybody loves ray - doncha know?:-)
Well, what exactly do you 'hope' people will say about your $78,000 ray feeding program?
Here is what I hope. I hope government can get out of things they have no business being in in the first place. And when they are involved with do-gooder projects that they shouldn't be, I should at least hope that they are competent. I guess both of our hopes are going unrealized.
Sure do, but I couldn't get him to eat them!!
I very surprised that the governmaent didn't just rename this The Skate Enhancement Program and celebrate it as an unqualified success.
'O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
'You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none --
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
he does look kinda hungry.... i hear he digs seafood
Well, Dougie, you know one thing now: cow-nosed rays really think baby oysters are tasty morsels.
I have nothing to do with this.
Perhaps Mr. Brumbaugh would care, then to elaborate on exactly what they were doing. Sounds like 78K of chum, to me.
What happened to the oysters in the first place?