Intensive oyster culture in the Chesapeake Bay offers enormous economic growth opportunities, but also poses unusual biological and management challenges. Nowhere else in the world where intensive culture is pursued is there the combination of high carrying capacity culture sites in small estuaries with shallow water columns, limited tidal excursion, little or no option for intertidal culture, and a regulation limiting bottom placed culture containers (cages) to a maximum height 12 inches because of a federal regulation in the Bridges and Harbors Act.
Bottom placed cages present a compromise in farm management. Oysters in cages at high densities grow quickly and filter enormous volumes of water. Regular “splitting” of these densities to subsequent cages improves growth and survival but increases labor costs. High densities of oysters can also cause an accumulation of organic rich fecal material below the cages that must be managed by careful location of cages and periodic movement. We are working with local oyster farms to develop quantitative biological models that enables managers to develop best management practices to insure both optimal oyster growth and profitability, and sustainable ecosystem health.