We’ve Done So Well by Chesapeake Oysters, We Can Start Eating Them Again

Perhaps this time we can keep ourselves from eating them to oblivion

an oyster bed.jpg
Image: Maryland GovPics

We humans are really into eating things. It's what we spend a lot of our time, energy and money doing. Sometimes we eat things to extinction. Sometimes we eat things that are terrible for us. Sometimes we eat until we can't eat anymore. Now, thanks to the work of environmentalists, we can eat one more thing.

The Chesapeake Bay oyster used to be a common menu item in the early 1900s. But booming consumption quickly ran through their population. By the 1990s, the Chesapeake Bay oyster population was 1 percent of what it once was. Those that were left were full of gunk and disease as the bay itself became polluted.

But recent conservation efforts have finally started to pay off. April Fulton at NPR's The Salt reports that this year's oyster season is off to a good start:

But many mid-Atlantic chefs are actually cheering. That's because a major public-private effort to re-establish the oyster as a quality local food product — as well as a weapon against water pollution — seems to be working.

"Almost every oyster you're buying cleans the bay," gushes Brian Stickel, corporate chef for Clyde's Restaurant Group. Clyde's runs 14 restaurants around Washington, D.C., including The Old Ebbitt Grill, famous for its raw oyster bar, which lures patrons day and night.

It's taken years for the populations to recover, and the water to become clean enough for the oysters to be safe. But now that they're back, we're ready to have at them again. Perhaps this time we can keep ourselves from eating them to oblivion.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Mining an Oyster Midden
Will Oysters Survive Ocean Acidification? Depends on the Oyster.

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