potential consequences of introducing C. gigas (Lipton et al., 1992), estimates of the cost efficiency of relaying for depuration or to reduce morbidity (Easley, 1982; Dunning and Adams, 1995; Keithly and Diop, 2001a, 2001b), the strength of leased-bottom claims as a basis for redress against sources of bioaccumulated toxic compounds (Ajuzie and Altobello, 1997), an evaluation of the role that increased seed prices played in the recent fishery decline (Bosch and Shabman, 1989), a model of the return to investment in research into the causes of recent fishery declines (Bosch and Shabman, 1990), and assessments of the current economic status of the oyster fishery (Lipton and Kirkley, 1994; Kirkley, 1997; Lipton, 2002).

Between 1980 and 2001, oyster production and harvest effort declined throughout the bay; however, production did not fall evenly. As shown in Table 5.1, Maryland produced roughly 2.1 million bushels of oysters in 1980, while Virginia produced 1.1 million bushels.1 By 2001 production from Maryland waters was approximately 348,000 bushels, a decline of approximately 83% from 1980 levels. During the same period, production from Virginia waters declined approximately 98%, to about 23,000 bushels. Virginia’s share of the harvest fell from 34% in 1980 to 6% in 2001. Total production, man-days of labor, number of license holders, estimated average income, and number of processing plants are all below their 1980 levels.

As production declined, the per unit value of oysters increased. The nominal value of a bushel of oysters in 2001 was more than three times the 1975 value (see Figure 5.1). After adjusting for the effect of inflation, it becomes apparent that increases in prices paid to harvesters have not been high enough to offset overall production losses; thus, the total value of the oyster harvest in 2001 was significantly smaller than the 1980 value. For 1980 the total dockside value of the Chesapeake oyster harvest was $29.3 million. In 2001 it was $4.3 million (National Marine Fisheries Service [NMFS], 2003), a drop of more than 85% (see Figure 5.2). When expressed in real terms (2001 dollars), the loss in total dockside value was closer to 93%; a drop from $60.1 million in 1980 to $4.3 million in 2001 dollars. Moreover, as oyster abundance has declined, catch per unit of effort has also declined. The adoption of cost-reducing technological changes has been constrained by regulation, suggesting that the cost per unit landed has increased. Harvester net returns have been caught in the double bind of falling revenues and rising costs. Because oyster harvests declined more precipitously in Virginia than in Maryland, real value fell from $40.6 million to $3.8 million in Maryland and from $19.5 million to

1  

There is a wide variation in pounds of oyster meat per bushel across states and regions: in Connecticut a bushel yields 7.7 pounds of oyster meats; New York 7.5 pounds; Maryland 6.48 pounds; Virginia 6.59 pounds; and Louisiana 4.82 pounds (NMFS, 1976).



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