Virginia’s seafood industry numbers are impressive. First, there’s the vast array of species harvested in the state’s 620,000 acres of waterways. In terms of economic value, sea scallops, clams and blue crabs lead a list of around 50 commercially valuable species in Virginia. More nontraditional species are being harvested as well for international markets, including eel, monkfish and Chesapeake ray.
In addition, oysters are increasingly garnering attention in the state and around the world.
“There has been a renaissance in people eating oysters,” says Dr. Jim Wesson, who heads the Department of Conservation and Replenishment for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. “The younger folks are eating them because they are trendy, locally grown and delicious. Oyster bars are popping up everywhere. It has really caught on as a food.”
Virginia is the nation’s third-largest producer of marine products, according to the Virginia Marine Products Board, with landings of more than 380 million pounds in 2013 and a dockside value over $163 million. The state’s seafood industry, which dates back around 400 years, has an annual economic impact of more than a half-billion dollars, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Virginia’s seafood export business is lively as well, totaling $49.1 million with products shipped to more than 20 countries, according to statistics from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Top countries receiving Virginia’s seafood products are France, Canada, Hong Kong, Nigeria and Vietnam.
Trail of the Oyster
If the state’s seafood industry has a star player, it may very well be the oyster. Virginia’s oysters are defined by their creamy, buttery flavor and smooth, mildly sweet finish. To help highlight the importance of the species, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced in summer 2014 the creation of the Virginia Oyster Trail. Featuring seven distinct regions, the trail connects travelers to the state’s oyster and watermen culture and, of course, includes stops at oyster bars and restaurants.
Virginia’s oyster industry went through some lean years in the 1980s and ’90s primarily due to diseases that had affected the species. But it has experienced a resurgence, with a harvest increase from approximately 23,000 bushels in 2001 to more than 500,000 bushels in 2013. The dockside value of the 2013 oyster