, 2014

‘Decent’ oyster season predicted

by Audrey Thomasson

WEEMS—At 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, boats began lining up at W. E. Kellum Seafood Inc., an oyster processing plant on Carters Creek.

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It was opening day of public oyster season in Virginia, and area watermen were not wasting any time getting a jump on the day and hauling up their limit of oysters from the public grounds in the Rappahannock River near the mouth of Carters Creek.

“It’s going to be a decent season,” said Tommy Kellum, vice president at Kellum Seafood, one of the largest buyers of oysters on the bay. “We’re seeing no death rate in the oysters.”

Oyster death is indicated by an empty shell with a white center.

Kellum said he expected about 25 oyster boats would pull up to the plant dock after working the historic Drumming Ground in Area 4 of the Rappahannock River Rotation. Area 4 encompasses river bottom from the center of the Rappahannock to the Lancaster side of the river and from the Robert O. Norris Bridge to Towles Point, according to Kellum.

Hovering around the plant was a Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) boat. Kellum explained the marine police were making sure the oystermen turned in no more than their daily limit of 8-bushels per licensed man and a maximum of 24 bushels per boat.

According to VMRC, Virginia’s oyster harvest increased from 23,000 bushels in 2001 with a dockside value of $575,000 to an estimated 250,000 bushels in 2012. This year, officials are estimating the harvest will top 320,000 bushels with a value of some $8.26 million, which would be the largest harvest since 1987.

With the increase in the population of Virginia oysters,VMRC is monitoring from land, air and water to make sure there is no poaching.

Poaching includes taking more than the daily 8-bushel limit, taking oysters from condemned waters, oyster sanctuaries and private grounds that oyster farmers lease from the state, or harvesting at night, which is prohibited for the watermen’s safety and to aid enforcement.

“Outlaws are the minority,” Kellum said. “Most oystermen do a very good job. That’s how they make their limit. It’s a pleasure to work with them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

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