With a recovering oyster population, state raises annual harvest quota
Delaware's oyster quota is up this year, allowing commercial fishermen to harvest more bushels this season.
The state's approximately 180 licensed oyster harvesters will be able to harvest more than 16,300 bushels of oysters total – a 43 percent increase from the 2017 quota. The state increased the quota by 7 percent last year.
The oyster population has been slowly bouncing back ever since two diseases hit in the 1960s through 1990s. A disease called MSX hurt the population in the 1960s and 70s. Oysters were devastated by another disease called Dermo in the 1980s.
John Clark, an environmental program administrator with Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Division of Fish and Wildlife, said there were hopeful signs of a rebounding oyster population. Then, more oysters died in the early 2000s.
But recent population surveys and science have made the state cautiously optimistic, he said.
"The oysters that are left may have finally developed some resistance to both these diseases and that may be what is allowing these oysters to increase their population in a way that we haven’t seen in quite a while," Clark said.
Clark said oyster beds seem to be recovering to the point where fishermen can exploit about 2 percent of the population and still allow them to thrive.
The new quota goes into effect in April, when the fishery opens. The 180 licensed harvesters will be able to harvest about 90 bushels each.