In Chesapeake oysters’ future: underwater drones, shellfish barges?

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By Timothy B. Wheeler

People have been farming oysters in the Chesapeake Bay since at least the 1800s, and some of the methods and tools in use today haven’t changed much.

Now, some researchers and entrepreneurs are working to bring oyster aquaculture into the 21st century.

Just as agriculture increasingly uses new technology such as airborne drones to monitor crop growth and equipment that applies fertilizer more precisely, scientists hope to boost the aquaculture industry’s output and profitability by employing remote sensing, robotics and other cutting-edge technology.

Such innovations are important for both oyster growers and the Bay. With the Chesapeake bivalve population suffering from pollution, habitat loss and disease, oyster farming has become a vital complement to the wild fishery.

And, if the new efforts succeed, the growth of aquaculture can further ease harvest pressure on ecologically important wild oysters and help restore their abundance in the Chesapeake.

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