Oyster population on the rise thanks, in part, to farmers

While you’re celebrating Virginia Oyster Month in November, be sure to thank a farmer. 

That’s because farmers’ Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts are helping oysters thrive. Over the past 10 years, the bay’s oyster population had been decimated by disease, pollution and overharvesting. But in 2014 Maryland and Virginia reported their best oyster harvests in three decades, gathering a combined 900,000 bushels. 

Farmers do their part in helping keep the bay clean by participating in resource management plans. Virginia’s Resource Management Plan program, which entered its third year in July, continues to enroll farmers in an effort to track conservation practices in the commonwealth’s portion of the bay watershed.  

Since Virginia launched the program, 320 plans have been developed. Created in the interest of meeting bay cleanup goals, the program encourages farmers to voluntarily increase their use of agricultural best management practices. It also documents their existing practices.

The plans cover more than 65,000 acres in the bay watershed and include more than 2,100 best management practices to protect soil and water resources. Sixty farm owners and operators are participating. 

“The Resource Management Plan program gives farmers a great opportunity to receive credit for their conservation efforts and to educate the non-farming community on the water quality benefits agriculture provides,” explained Scott Ambler, Department of Conservation and Recreation resource management program coordinator.

DCR manages the program in partnership with Virginia’s 47 soil and water conservation districts. Individual RMPs document farmers’ roles in keeping the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries healthy. The plans must cover the minimum standards for nutrient management, stream buffers, livestock exclusion and soil conservation. Once a plan is approved and its practices implemented, a farm is deemed to be in compliance with state nutrient and sediment standards for the next nine years.

Looking to sample some Virginia oysters? Visit the Virginia Oyster Trail, a project connecting travelers to Virginia oyster growers, raw bars and restaurants throughout Coastal Virginia, the Northern Neck, the Middle Peninsula and Virginia's Eastern Shore.

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