Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The WPA and the Chesapeake Bay

(A view of the Chesapeake Bay from Kent Island. Photo by Brent McKee.)

On April 8th, 1936, it was reported that the "Maryland State Conservation Commission...had recommended that 200,000 bushels of oyster shells be planted on the depleted bottoms in the lower Chesapeake Bay area...providing work for a considerable number of the unemployed of that part of the Eastern Shore" ("Plans For Oyster Planting Pushed," The Sun, p. 8).

In various areas across the nation, WPA workers planted over 8 million bushels of oysters (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, p. 132).

In 2010, addressing a depleted oyster population, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recommended that "Maryland and Virginia should work with the federal government to invest sufficient funds to rebuild former reefs with enough shells, concrete, or other appropriate materials to establish successful reef communities" ("On the Brink: Chesapeake's Native Oysters; What it Will Take to Bring Them Back").

Though the oyster population appears to be improving in the Chesapeake Bay, it is still at historically low levels. According to a recent news article, there were 422,382 bushels of oysters harvested in 2013--the highest amount in 15 years--but back in 1884 there were 15 million bushels harvested. The article reports that the oyster population "has dropped precipitously and since 1994 has languished at one percent of historic levels."

Wouldn't it be nice to have a WPA today, to help repopulate the oysters of the Chesapeake Bay?

(WPA workers in Crisfield, Maryland, preparing to plant oyster shells in the Chesapeake Bay, 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

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