It’s Time to Embrace a Revolutionized Oyster Harvest

Once upon a time there was a Chesapeake Bay area culture dependent on oysters.  The sessile mollusks native to the large estuary on the east coast of the United States drove the economy, industry and appetite of the mid-Atlantic United States from the early 19th century to well into the 20th century.  This is no longer the case as oyster population has deteriorated to a dismal 0.3 percent of its population from the early 19th century.  As a culture, we have relentlessly bullied this species that John Smith once described as astoundingly thick and plentiful since populating the east coast of the North American continent.  There are a number of similarly detrimental reasons for this including disease, over-harvesting, habitat loss, and poor water quality, and they have combined to force extraordinary suffering on a species of incredible importance to the Chesapeake Bay’s health.  With today’s water quality and erosion issues enveloping the entire estuary, the filter feeder and shoreline protector’s absence has never been more apparent.  Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem in the form of the aquaculture, and it is time to fully embrace this as a society as the harvesting technique of the future.  For this reason, we need to stop harvesting oysters the natural way and make a bay-wide transition to oyster farming.

A big obstacle for this plan would be attempting to convince Chesapeake Bay watermen to abandon the craft they have practiced their entire life in order to take up aquaculture.  One of the biggest and relatively historical underlying issues with declining oyster populations is overharvesting as we have taken oysters out of the bay for centuries at an unsustainable rate.  They have historically been a big target because there has been a great deal of potential money to be made in the business and also the fact that they are so easy to “catch” due to their sessile nature (Livie).  The unfathomable amount of people involved in this practice during the 19th and early 20th century left a powerful watermen culture on the shores on the Chesapeake Bay that still exists today.  These people, who have incredibly deep roots in the watermen lifestyle, do not want to give up their culture that has been in their family for generations in many cases.  One’s culture is frequently directly related to one’s surrounding environment because the surrounding ecosystem is so important for survival (Seidel).  For the waterman, this ecosystem was the oysters and their culture and lifestyle was enveloped by them.  It is extremely hard to give something like that up, but that is what needs to happen for the good of our surrounding ecosystem.

Timothy Devine, owner of Barren Island Oysters from Hoopers Island, Maryland, has been practicing aquaculture for five years now.  He said that the Maryland system still needs work because he had no idea what he was doing when he started out and that some of the laws were “absurd” and that there is “no flexibility with stuff.”  Despite this, he believes aquaculture to be the way of the future, even stating that we should be exclusively using the method of aquaculture over natural harvest, and takes great pride in his high quality business.  Barren Island Oysters are very proud of their environmentally friendly business and their business model states that they are “sustainably raised and responsibly harvested.”

We have operated for centuries with a manifest destiny ideology when it comes to resources.  We have thought we can take whatever we need from the environment without any future consequences.  William Cronon points out that this may be a result of a fundamental flaw on how we view nature and wildness as separate from us.  This type of mindset leads us to not consider the negative effect on us when we try to change or alter nature (Cronon).  Regardless, we have dealt with finite resources with an infinite mindset, either not realizing the future problems that would ensue, not caring about them, or figuring there would be some remarkable technological advancement that would fix everything.  Today, technology has given us an answer.  Oyster farming gives us the opportunity to continue to consume oysters without any negative effects on the environment while waiting for the natural oysters to recover.  It is time to fully embrace this as a society.

Works Cited

Cronon, W. (1995). The Trouble with Wilderness: A Response. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, 69-90.

Livie, K (2015). Oysters [Powerpoint Slides].

Seidel, J. (2015). Science and Society – Part 1 [Powerpoint slides].


The Geographical Problems of Diplomacy

For as long as anyone in this country can remember, states have made laws that apply to that particular state’s entire geographical boundaries.  This presents a problem when the state of Pennsylvania makes a law that intends to help pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  The Chesapeake Bay watershed in Pennsylvania is difficult to manage by the state because Pennsylvania only has a certain amount of its population residing within the confines of the Bay’s watershed, so when it makes laws attempting to clean up the polluted watershed, they do not apply to many of the state’s residents.  For this reason, Pennsylvania should seriously consider making laws based on certain geographical constraints, like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, instead of having them apply to the entire state.  It might be a lot easier if their Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort only applied to the people within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

None of the actual Chesapeake Bay actually lies within the state of Pennsylvania’s borders, so it is difficult to get residents of Pennsylvania to care about the bay and the challenges it faces, most notably pollution from agricultural runoff.  Despite this, it is of utmost importance to the bay’s health.  Fifty percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s freshwater comes from the mighty Susquehanna River which means a lot of runoff coming from the Pennsylvanian farms ends up in the large estuary below (Hardesty).  Even though it is so important to the bay’s persistence, it is difficult to convince Pennsylvania citizens to care about how their actions affect the bay because they lack the connection with the bay us Marylanders have.  They cannot see the effect they are having on the bay the same way we can.  It is extremely difficult to convince citizens that their actions are negatively affecting something so far away.  Problems also arise because only twenty-five percent of Pennsylvania’s population resides within the watershed boundary (Hardesty).  When Pennsylvania attempts to make a law involving pollution and the attempted clean-up of the bay, it becomes problematic because the actions of seventy-five percent of the population have no effect on the Chesapeake Bay.  This is vastly different than Maryland in which ninety-seven percent of the population lives within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

This is why Pennsylvania needs to consider changing their political procedure for this particular issue.  When making laws involving the potential clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay, the state of Pennsylvania should consider only involving the twenty-five percent of residents living within the Bay’s watershed.  This would make for a much easier clean-up effort in that the state would only have to focus on a certain segment of their population in getting them on board and not have to convince the other seventy-five percent of their residents of the legitimacy and urgency of this issue.  If Pennsylvania could somehow only make laws applying to this concentrated quarter of their population, their attempt to clean up their section of the watershed could go much easier and smoother.

Why are we not more concerned about rising sea levels?

The topic of sea levels rising has been the controversial subject of a lot of debate over the past several years.  Everyone from the political world to the scientific world has attempted to find the answer of what is happening with sea levels, why it is happening and how much money to spend on answering these questions and finding a solution.  Everyone wants to figure out the cause of the sea level rising and the answer to the debate on whether it is a product of our actions or simply the earth’s natural trend.  But when it comes to the people who live near coastlines, the why of sea level rise should not matter as much as the fact that sea level is indeed rising and their homes and lifestyle could be underwater soon.  Everyone in coastal communities should be more concerned about this than they are because it is happening now and it is happening fast.

Sea level rise is a serious issue regardless of the source of its problem.  Globally, the sea has risen eight inches since 1880 and even more in certain cities along the United States Atlantic coast.  It has risen over 17 inches in New York City since 1856, 13 inches in Baltimore since 1902, and ten inches in Boston in less than a century.  This trend it going to be a big problem for people living along the coast soon because there is no end in sight (Levin).  It is already an issue in coastal areas during extreme high tides.  Two times every month, during the new and full moon, gravitational pull from the sun and the moon combine to make high tide even higher than usual.  Back in 1970, these tides were not a huge issue most of the time for coastal towns, but today is a different story.  The times that these extreme high tides have created flooding issues in coastal communities have quadrupled since 1970.  This is and will continue to be a huge issue for these coastal societies.

We as a society need to stop being as concerned about the source of rising seawater and be more concerned about the fact that sea level is actually rising.  People living in coastal cities, especially New Orleans, really need to be more worried about their home and streets getting drowned in the rising water levels.  They cannot simply wait around for natural or technological fix.  Whatever the reason for not worrying about it, whether it is denial of it actually happening or thinking it will not happen for a long time, there needs to be some sort of solution or plan because the sea level is rising and we will not be able to stop it any time soon.