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Oyster Company of Virginia has partnered with Reeftek Inc to collaborate on the creation of oyster sanctuaries. (Photo: YouTube/MDSeaGrant)

Virginia's first oyster cooperative launched

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Monday, October 18, 2010, 05:10 (GMT + 9)

Virginia's first privately funded oyster cooperative has been born thanks to the joint efforts of watermen, scientists and businessmen. Oyster Company of Virginia will provide 12 watermen with the resources they require to farm oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, bringing hope to oyster restoration and jobs to locals.

Founded last August by businessman W Tolar Nolley, the cooperative will lease acres of Virginia’s bay bottom and purchase oyster seed and cages in which to grow oysters. Watermen will plant the seeds, harvest them and then sell the oysters using a new custom-designed pontoon boat, 900 oyster cages and 2 million oysters. 

The watermen’s salary will come from the oysters’ profits, which will also fund the purchase of new gear and the scheme’s expansion, said Ken Smith, president of the Virginia State Waterman's Association.

The cooperative needs about USD 200,000 per waterman in startup funding, and it has thus far raised more than USD 1 million from private investors. The public and businesses can join the project by purchasing a membership starting at USD 175, reports Richmond Times-Dispatch.

For decades, disease, loss of habitat and pollution have all afflicted Chesapeake oysters, leaving them at less than 1 per cent of their peak historic population at this point. 

Numerous watermen have rejected their aquaculture, but the industry has made great leaps in the last 10 years -- most remarkably by creating more disease-tolerant oyster seeds. This development plus the endorsement of trusted people like Smith has led to the birth of the cooperative.

The group hopes to take on additional watermen as the years pass and draw corporate support by endorsing the programme as a method to cut pollution in the bay, Smith said. As they filter up to 50 gal of water per day, oysters help clean the bay of excess nutrients that cause problems like dead zones.

The cooperative intends to lobby state and federal officials to add their efforts to the "pollution diet" being drafted for the bay by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Similarly, an effort launched two years ago by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission used part of the USD 15 million obtained to overhaul the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab stock to train numerous watermen on oyster aquaculture.

Oyster Company of Virginia has additionally partnered with reef-building company Reeftek Inc to collaborate on the creation of oyster sanctuaries, Smith said.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) started accepting applications for new aquaculture permits last month per new oyster leasing guidelines. The state has set aside millions of dollars to aid watermen as they convert to aquaculture and to fund high-tech law enforcement surveillance devices to keep an eye on sanctuaries and oyster beds.

Related articles:

- Oyster aquaculture set to expand in Maryland
- Chesapeake oysters resisting disease 

By Natalia Real
[email protected]
www.fis.com


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