Virginia Oysters on the Rise

After almost fully retiring as Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Virginia Oyster Restoration and Fisheries Scientist, Tommy Leggett returned to his desired life as a waterman — aquaculture farming native oysters throughout the bay for his small scale oyster business, York River Oysters.

Tommy spends his days working by the tides. At early morning high tide, he cruises around the cove by boat to clean and bag oysters for the day’s deliveries. Afternoons are spent performing “husbandry,” or routine maintenance of the younger oysters. In the evening, he makes his rounds to local restaurants, delivering fresh oysters from the morning’s haul.And like sweet music to any oyster lover’s ears, according to Tommy, the more native Virginia oysters you eat, the more you’re helping the Bay.

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The Chesapeake Bay has seen a dramatic upswing in its oyster population in recent years thanks to advocacy for aquaculture and a resurgence of small-scale oyster farmers. Through his work with Chesapeake Bay Foundation and on the ground as a waterman, Tommy is on the frontline of the Bay’s oyster resurgence.

Oysters thrive on algae that is detrimental to the Bay and act as natural filtration systems, each oyster filtering up to 50 gallons of water per day. The natural process of aquaculture farming innately restores and replenishes clean water back into the Bay. Ten years ago, the oyster population of the Chesapeake Bay was fewer than 10 million. Since then, the introduction of aquaculture farming has increased growth in the Bay’s oyster population by over 110 million.

The road to rejuvenating what once was a booming oyster industry in Virginia is a long one, but Tommy’s story is indicative of tremendous strides towards progress. His work with CBF has focused on restoring oysters to Virginia tributaries, running a small scale oyster farm for restoration, living shoreline projects and constructing concrete reef balls for oyster restoration. While there are many pressing issues the Bay faces, both environmentally and politically, Tommy’s passion for restoring sustainable infrastructure to the Chesapeake Bay is inspiring.

To learn more and get involved with sustainable conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, visit http://www.cbf.org/.

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All photography courtesy of Adam Ewing.

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