James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD, MSGeog, CNHG


Hooked Mussels attached to Oysters, Chesapeake Bay oyster-reef
(Chris Judy / Maryland Dep’t of Natural Resources photo)

And it shall come to pass, that everything that lives, which moves, wherever the rivers shall go, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall go there, for they shall be healed; and everything shall live where the river goes.   (Ezekiel 47:9)

Oysters are known to be estuarial ecosystem “heroes”, for a lot of reasons.  But don’t be surprised if other bivalves are helping, as we shall see below.


OYSTER BAR in the Chesapeake Bay   (Univ. of Md. / Alice Jane Lippson)

Healthy rivers (and estuaries) are a good thing.  But sometimes a “hero” is needed, to clean up unhealthy rivers, or to “keep clean” rivers that will otherwise go bad.

Tough “clean-up” jobs, as well as “keep-it-clean” maintenance jobs, are often accomplished by unsung heroes. For example, the tough job of cleaning up water quality (and the job of maintaining water quality) in coastal wetlands requires some helpful muscles, such as those of the Chesapeake Bay’s mussels!  So, shouldn’t such helpful bivalves be given due credit, for what they do?

Mussels, once mostly ignored, are now being touted for their ability to clean streams much like oysters do for the Bay. Oysters are in many ways the restoration darlings of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. Touted for multiple benefits — as edible, water-filtering moneymakers — oysters attract both enthusiasm and funding to promote their recovery.

But the popularity of oysters often overshadows the water-cleansing role of other filter feeders such as mussels. A growing group of mussel advocates think it’s high time that the bivalves share the spotlight as clean-water workhorses that can carry the message farther upstream.

 Projects to propagate mussels and restore them to waterways where they once thrived are cropping up in parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania as researchers working on them in various states begin to join efforts. The goal is to return some of the diversity once found in these waterways — mussel by mussel — so they can filter, feed, clean and otherwise serve the local ecosystem.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1 (October 2018).]


MUSSELS   (Encyclopedia Britannica photo)

So, what service do mussels provide, such as the mussels (e.g., “Hooked Mussel“, a/k/a “Bent Mussel”:  Ischadium recurvum) which dwell in Chesapeake Bay watershed streams and estuarial wetlands?

Research in Chesapeake Bay shows that the mussels that typically colonize a restored oyster reef can more than double the reef’s overall filtration capacity. Filtering plankton helps improve water quality because these tiny drifting organisms thrive on the excess nitrogen and other nutrients that humans release into the Bay and its tributaries through farming, wastewater outflow, and the burning of fossil fuels. …

Restoring oysters — and their ability to filter large volumes of water — is widely seen as a key way to improve the health of Chesapeake Bay. New research makes this calculus even more appealing, showing that the mussels that typically colonize the nooks and crannies of a restored oyster reef can more than double its overall filtration capacity.

The study — by researchers at the University of Maryland, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science — appears as the cover story in the most recent issue of Restoration Ecology [i.e., Keryn B. Gedan, Lisa Kellogg, & Denise L. Breitburg, Accounting for Multiple Foundation Species in Oyster Reef Restoration Benefits, Restoration Ecology, 22(4):517 (May 2014), DOI: 10.1111/rec.12107 ]

“Many efforts to restore coastal habitat focus on planting just one species, such as oysters, mangroves, or seagrass,” says [University of Maryland]’s Keryn Gedan, the study’s lead author. “However, our research shows that the positive effects of diverse ecosystems can be much greater. In the case of oyster reefs, commonly associated species such as mussels may multiply the water quality benefits of restoration by filtering more and different portions of the plankton.”

“Estimates of the ecosystem services provided by a restoration project are used to justify, prioritize, and evaluate such projects,” adds [Virginia Institute of Marine Science] scientist Lisa Kellogg. “By quantifying the significant role that mussels can play in filtration within an oyster-reef habitat, our work shows that the ‘return on investment’ for oyster-reef restoration is potentially much higher than commonly thought.”

Filtering plankton helps improve water quality [and thus functions as what some ecologists call an “ecosystem engineer”, but really God is the providential-programmer Bioengineer, so the bivalves are more like programmed “tools” or “employees” of the divine Engineer  —  JJSJ comment] because these tiny drifting organisms thrive on the excess nitrogen and other nutrients that humans release into the Bay and its tributaries through farming, wastewater outflow, and the burning of fossil fuels.

“Filtering plankton from the water is the first step towards removing nutrients,” says Kellogg. “Although some will be returned to the water column, a significant portion will be removed from the system.” Removing plankton also has more direct benefits. Left unchecked, plankton can form dense blooms that shade other aquatic plants such as seagrass, and can lead to low-oxygen “dead zones” when they die, sink, and decay.

The research team, which also included SERC’s Denise Breitburg, based their findings on a combination of laboratory experiments and computer modeling. In the lab, they added phytoplankton of different size classes to tanks containing eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) or hooked mussels (Ischadium recurvum), then measured the animals’ filtration rates at different temperatures. They then incorporated these measured rates into a simple model and used that to simulate overall filtration for three different restoration scenarios in Harris Creek, Maryland, one of the East Coast’s largest oyster-reef restoration sites.

Kellogg’s main contribution to the paper was data on the relative abundance of oysters, mussels, and other organisms inhabiting restored oyster reefs collected during her time as a post-doctoral researcher at Maryland’s Horn Point Lab. These data, which showed that the biomass of mussels on a restored reef can equal or exceed that of the oysters, were used as baselines for the model projections.

The results of that modeling were clear. “On average,” says Gedan, “adding filtration by hooked mussels into our model increased the filtration capacity of the reef by more than two-fold.”

Hooked mussels were also twice as effective as oysters at filtering picoplankton,” says Breitburg.

Picoplankton are the smallest category of marine plankton, ranging from about 1.5 to 3 microns (a human red blood cell is about 5 microns across). Picoplankton are particularly abundant in Chesapeake Bay during summer, with an earlier study from the York River showing they can make up nearly 15% of phytoplankton “biomass” during the warmer months.

“Some have suggested that oyster reef restoration will be less effective than expected in controlling phytoplankton populations because of oysters’ inability to filter picoplankton,” says Kellogg. “Our discoveries with mussels lessen that concern.”

“The mussels’ ability to filter the picoplankton indicates that they fill a distinct ecological niche,” adds Gedan. “Accounting for both oyster and mussel filtration, large-scale restoration projects like those going on in Chesapeake Bay could significantly control phytoplankton, especially during the summer months, when animals filter the most.”

The bottom line, says Gedan, is that “estimates of the ecosystem services provided by just the oysters on an oyster reef may vastly underrepresent the reefs’ overall contribution. Because oyster reefs also contain many other filter-feeding species, they will likely benefit water quality much more than previous modeling efforts suggest.” Kellogg is now taking this line of research further, studying how another common oyster-reef inhabitant — an organism called a tunicate — might also contribute to gains in water quality. Tunicates, fleshy animals also known as sea squirts, filter plankton and other particles from the water similarly to oysters and mussels.

[Quoting Virginia Institute of Marine Science, “Study Puts Some Mussels into Chesapeake Bay Restoration”, 9-8-AD2014, at ScienceDaily.com posted at  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140908121538.htm .]


Hooked Mussels attached to Oysters, Chesapeake Bay oyster-reef
(Chris Judy / Maryland Dep’t of Natural Resources photo)

Summarized in technical ecology lingo, the researchers abstract their findings on mussel filter-cleaning as follows:

Many coastal habitat restoration projects are focused on restoring the population of a single foundation species to recover an entire ecological community. Estimates of the ecosystem services provided by the restoration project are used to justify, prioritize, and evaluate such projects. However, estimates of ecosystem services provided by a single species may vastly under‐represent true provisioning, as we demonstrate here with an example of oyster reefs, often restored to improve estuarine water quality.

In the brackish Chesapeake Bay, the hooked mussel Ischadium recurvum can have greater abundance and biomass than the focal restoration species, the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica. We measured the temperature‐dependent phytoplankton clearance rates of both bivalves and their filtration efficiency on three size classes of phytoplankton to parameterize an annual model of oyster reef filtration, with and without hooked mussels, for monitored oyster reefs and restoration scenarios in the eastern Chesapeake Bay.

The inclusion of filtration by hooked mussels increased the filtration capacity of the habitat greater than 2fold. Hooked mussels were also twice as effective as oysters at filtering picoplankton (1.5–3 µm), indicating that they fill a distinct ecological niche by controlling phytoplankton in this size class, which makes up a significant proportion of the phytoplankton load in summer.

When mussel and oyster filtration are accounted for in this, albeit simplistic, model, restoration of oyster reefs in a tributary scale restoration is predicted to control 100% of phytoplankton during the summer months.

[Quoting Keryn B. Gedan, Lisa Kellogg, & Denise L. Breitburg, Accounting for Multiple Foundation Species in Oyster Reef Restoration Benefits, Restoration Ecology, 22(4):517 (May 2014), DOI: 10.1111/rec.12107 ]

Wow! Good for the Eastern Oysters, for their work in filter-cleaning Chesapeake Bay estuarial picoplankton, yet compliments also to the Hooked Mussels for their respective contributions to the clean-up work!  (This illustrates good teamwork!)

But it’s not just the brackish waters of Chesapeake Bay wetlands that host mussels. (Thus, there are other waters that benefit from mussel cleaning.)  In fact, mussels often thrive in riverine freshwater habitats other than those which limnologists would classify as “coastal wetlands”.


Texas Freshwater Mussel life cycle   (Texas Parks & Wildlife Dep’t image)

In Texas, for example, freshwater mussels are both plentiful and diverse, living in both lotic (running) and lentic (standing) bodies of water.

Freshwater mussels may inhabit a variety of water-body types including large and small rivers and streams, lakes, ponds, canals, and reservoirs. More stable habitats may have larger and more diverse populations than do smaller and less stable waters.  Some species tolerate a wide variety of conditions [e.g., various bottom types, currents, water depths, water pH and other chemistry factors, water clarity, amount of sunlight, turbidity, aquatic vegetation, percentage of dissolved oxygen saturation, water temperature, biotic community make-up, etc.], but others may be more specific.  Certain mussels may require moderate to swiftly flowing waters, and typically fail to survive in lakes or impoundments.

Headwater spring pools and streams in Texas Hill Country typically harbor few if any mussels largely because the cool, clear waters lack sufficient phytoplankton and other foods needed to support mussel populations. A few species like pondhorns (Uniomerus spp.) occur in temporary ponds and periodically-dry portions of intermittent streams by burrowing into the substrate during dewatering.

[Quoting Robert G. Howells, Raymond W. Neck, & Harold D. Murray, FRESHWATER MUSSELS OF TEXAS (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Inland Fisheries Division, 1996), page 14.]

In Texas, for instance, freshwater mussels —  especially dozens of varieties of unionid mussels (freshwater-dwelling mollusk bivalves a/k/a “naiads”)  —  have flourished for centuries in the enormously biodiverse bayou-waters of Caddo Lake, Texas’ sole “natural lake” (which borders Louisiana).

However, freshwater mussels have also been studied in these major river systems of the Lone Star State:

Canadian River (only slim pickings in these Panhandle-traversing waters); Red River (serving as the Texas-Oklahoma border to Arkansas, swelling at the artificially expanded Lake Texoma, favoring mussel populations including unionids such as pondshell, pondhorn, and yellow sandshell, as well as some clams);

Sulphur River (a Red River tributary, once intensively fished for mussels);

Big Cypress Bayou (a tributary of Caddo Lake, once fished for mussel pearls);

Sabine River (flowing to Texas’ border with Louisiana, then into the Gulf of Mexico, once intensively fished for mussels);

Neches River, including its tributary Angelina River (flowing through Texas piney woodlands, with no recent major harvesting of mussels);

Trinity River, flowing into Trinity Bay (pollution has been a historic problem, killing off mussel populations, though some unionids are observed within Lake Lewisville, an artificially formed reservoir-tributary of the Trinity River drainage system);

San Jacinto River (flowing north of Houston, draining into Trinity Bay, hosting washboard and threeridge mussels – as evidence by mussels stranded in dewatered areas during droughts);

Brazos River (Texas’ longest river between the Red River and the Rio Grande, hosting unionids in its tributary Navasota River);

Colorado River (containing unionid mussels in several of its tributaries);

Lavaca River (no significant mussels observed);

Guadalupe River, with its primary tributary San Antonio River, plus other tributaries including Blanco River and San Marcos River (sporadically hosting washboards and other river mussels);

Nueces River (flowing into Nueces Bay, with muddier tributaries hosting some mussels); and the Rio Grande, including its tributary Pecos River (separating Texas from Mexico, and variously hosting some unionid mussels).

[For specific biogeography details, see Howells, Neck, & Murray, FRESHWATER MUSSELS OF TEXAS, pages 29-32.]

The water-filtering benefits of wetland mussels are worthy of appreciation; however, not every impact of mussels is advantageous, as is illustrated by the invasive (and pervasive) nuisance known as the non-unionid Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha).  The miniscule Zebra Mussel is not covered as a topic, here, except to notice that it has caused a lot of disturbing and non-miniscule impacts in many freshwater lakes of America and Europe, from one water-body to another, due to over-land transport as attachments to the hulls of recreational boats.  [Regarding Zebra Mussel nuisance impacts, see Winfried Lampert & Ulrich Sommer, LIMNOECOLOGY: THE ECOLOGY OF LAKES AND STREAMS, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2010), pages 123 & 224-225.]

Freshwater mussels come in all shapes and sizes, with nicknames that indicate their unique forms or textures, such as snuffbox, spectacle-case, pimple-back and pistol-grip. Most live in rivers or streams, some others in lakes and ponds, but all rely on a current of water to provide phytoplankton and bacteria that they filter-feed from the water. Some species can live to be more than 100 years old. They also have a complex life cycle that makes them difficult — but not impossible — to reproduce in hatcheries. Most need a fish to act as a host as they start their life: The larvae find shelter and grow in fish gills until they can navigate the waters on their own. Some mussels create lures to draw in their preferred host, and some clamp onto the fish with trap-like mouths. If the fish species preferred by a certain mussel disappears, the mussel does, too.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

In order to analyze the benefits of coastal wetland mussels, such as those which are quietly filter-cleaning wetland waters within the Chesapeake Bay drainage watershed, someone needs to carefully study them.

But, since most of these mollusks are not commercially exploited, who will pay for the scientific research on these humble bivalves?

Other parts of the country, such as the Tennessee River system and Delaware Bay, have seen the fruit that comes from investing in mussel propagation and research. Meanwhile, mussels have often fallen below the radar of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. That may be because freshwater mussels, unlike oysters or some saltwater mussels, don’t end up on human plates.

Research and restoration funding is harder to come by, even though three-quarters of freshwater mussel species are considered to be at some level of impairment. The money often comes in an off-and-on fashion from mitigation payments for environmental disasters and permit renewals, and partners in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort community have not focused their resources on mussels. … Many of the mussel advocates who gathered along the James River in July first interacted with the mollusks outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed — in the Clinch River, which rises in the southwest corner of Virginia and flows into Tennessee. The Clinch River is home to most of Virginia’s 81 mussel species, more than a third of which are endangered. The diversity of mussels found there has made the river a hotspot for research nationally. …

The Harrison Lake facility [i.e., the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery, located along the James River south of Richmond, Virginia – an activity of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior], built in the 1930s to support recreational fisheries, now has the capacity to grow tens of millions of mussels. Over the last decade, the facility transitioned from a focus on migratory fish species such as American shad to also growing tiny glochidia, the name for larval-stage mussels, into young mollusks.

When Dominion’s Bremo Power Station renewed its water discharge permit, the hatchery got more than a half-million dollars from the deal after a threatened mussel was found to be impacted by its discharge. When DuPont had to pay $42 million to settle a case over mercury contamination of the South River, the hatchery got $4 million. The coal ash spill in the Dan River in 2014 brought in additional funds to help replenish mussel species that might have been lost.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]


The Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery employs a staff of five – and their aquaculture efforts are producing results.

The hatchery team used to release tiny mussels into portions of the James watershed and hope for the best. Now, the staff has the technology to grow them “almost indefinitely” at the facility to a large enough size that they have much better survival rates in the wild. The center propagates the mussels by collecting female mussels that already have larvae in their gills, which the staff either extracts with a needle (to mimic a fish rubbing against it) or allows the mussel to release. Placed into tanks with their host fish, the larvae will attach to the fish before dropping off two to four weeks later to continue feeding and growing in a series of tanks. The lab is also working on in vitro fertilization for mussel species whose host fish is not known.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

In order to track progress, regarding the future growth and activities of mussels released to “the wild”, the hatchery uses a monitoring system that is analogous to bird-banding  —  the hatchery laser-etches identifying code markings onto the shell of a mussel, before release.  Also, some rare mussels receive special tagging.

At the hatchery, in a squat building paid for by the Bremo mitigation funds, biological science technician Bryce Maynard demonstrated methods used to tag and track the progress of mussels grown here before being launched into wild waters. He flipped the switch on a laser engraver that can carve numbers into several rows of mussels at a time, leaving a burnt-hair smell in the air and marking thousands of mussels a day for future tracking. Among the hatchery mussels are rare species such as the James spinymussel, which was once abundant in the James River upstream of Richmond but disappeared from most of its range by the late 1980s. The hatchery-raised spinymussels are marked with tags sealed in place with dental cement. The tags can be located later with a beeping detector but are costlier than other tracking methods.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

So what is the main benefit expected from these costly investment? Besides overall enhancing of the coastal wetland ecosystems, water filtering is expected, since that is what mussels are famous for.

Every mussel that finds its way into the watershed and survives could help filter about 10 liters of water per day, said Danielle Kreeger, senior science director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, where she’s become an advocate for the potential of what she calls the #mightymussel.  “Pound for pound, freshwater mussels are not slouches,” she said  …  “To me, every mussel is precious, and we need to protect them.”  Kreeger, in the coming months, will be completing a review of studies on the ability of such bivalves to enhance water quality, which she hopes will shore up the amount of data available about mussels’ benefits.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

To be clear, the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery is not limited to hatching mussels for the Chesapeake Bay’s tributary waters.

In fact, the USF&W operation there is, as one would expect, focused largely on piscatorial aquaculture, i.e., hatching fish, especially American Shad, as well as some alewife, blueback herring, hickory shad, and striped bass. [See “Harrison Lake national Fish Hatchery”, https://www.fws.gov/harrisonlake/ summary by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.]

But for now, the take-away lesson is an appreciation for mussels: they are a lot more important than most of us think they are.


Harrison Lake Nat’l Fish Hatchery: fish hosts carrying mussel larvae    (B. Davis / USF&WS photo)

But why are they, as Dr. Kreeger says, “precious”? Because God created them  —  it was God Who gave Chesapeake Bay mussels, as well as Texas riverine mussels, their intrinsic value.  As God’s creatures they display His workmanship – God’s creative bioengineering is exhibited (“plainly seen”) in all animals, including humble mussels.

Accordingly, as some of the many (albeit small and usually unseen) creatures whom God chose to create (and to “fill” diverse wetland habitats), estuarial mussels deserve due credit, for doing what God has programmed them to do, including filter-cleaning wetland waters. (For more on how OYSTERS can help restore coastal wetland ecosystems, see https://bibleworldadventures.com/2017/07/07/concrete-proof-that-oysters-are-resourceful-homesteaders-fitted-to-fill-diverse-habitats/ . )


HOOKED MUSSELS on rock substrate  (Chesapeake Bay Program photo)

So, good for the mussels!  Good for the water supply!  And that’s all good for us!   —  and therefore, primarily, we should give glory unto God, because God is due credit for providentially making estuarial (and riverine) mussels what they are and do.

><> JJSJ  profjjsj@aol.com

Dr. James J. S. Johnson freely admits that his appreciation for mussels did not begin with learning about how they contribute to filter-cleaning estuarial waters, but rather from his eating lots of tasty blue mussels when visiting New England.   [An earlier version of this blogpost article appeared on Bibleworld Adventures blog, November 12th AD2018.]





Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words [of Scripture] that were declared unto them.  (Nehemiah 8:12)


“Aw, shucks!” Some people actually celebrate shucks – shucking oysters, to be specific. Oyster shucking competitions are a time-honored tradition in the coastal areas surrounding the Chesapeake Bay.  [For youtube video, illustrating an oyster-shucking competition, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9u9JYA3yVs . To learn how to shuck oysters, see “Oyster 101 with Rickey Lee, the World’s Fastest Shucker”, posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qQsjyjEG2g .]

As the quote from Nehemiah (above) shows, there is a time to celebrate with food and drink — and enjoying the privilege of having God’s Word is certainly a proper occasion for celebrating.  And, if it’s available, the feasting aspect of such celebration could include the delectable mollusk we call OYSTERS!

Of course, shucking oysters (without hurting yourself) is an art that requires tactile skill, but the real fun, for most oyster enthusiasts, is in the eating, as Lara Lutz reported in September of AD2016.

The first time that George Hastings entered the U.S. National Oyster Shucking Contest in St. Mary’s County [Maryland], he didn’t win. But his bright blue eyes were set on the prize. I knew right then I’d be clearing my schedule every third weekend in October and going to St. Mary’s County”, Hastings said. “I told myself, ‘I’m coming here till I win this thing.’”

That was in 1994, and Hastings has lined up at the shucking table every year since. He won twice, first in 1999 and again in 2003, and represented the United States at the world “oyster opening” championship in Ireland. He’s become an enthusiastic ambassador for the homegrown festival that hosts the St. Mary’s contest and part of the regular crowd that travels from across the region and across the nation to enjoy comradery, competition and good food.

“It’s a family-oriented fair atmosphere, with something for everybody, young and old”, Hastings said. “And oysters, any way you like them – you’ll find them there.”

Quoting from Lara Lutz, “Keep on Shuckin’ – St. Mary’s Oyster Festival Draws Fans from Across United States”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 26(6), September 2016 issue (BAY JOURNEYS insert), page 4.


Thankfully, the rising industry (and art) of oyster aquaculture has been replenishing the supply of oysters for America’s East Coast, especially the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica), so that oyster festivals need not worry that oyster-craving festival visitors will go away hungry and disappointed.  (Ibid.)The wild oyster populations have been seriously challenged, however, for generations now, by a vicious combination of over-harvesting (especially by dredging) and habitat pollution (especially due to untreated sewer wastes that poison estuarial waters used by filter-feeders such as oysters).

Regarding the sometimes extreme controversies involving oyster-harvesting watermen, see John R. Wennerstein’s THE OYSTER WARS OF CHESAPEAKE BAY (Washington, DC: Eastern Branch Press, 2007), which chronicles the “surf wars” (which have sometimes involved bullets and even howitzers!) over Chesapeake Bay oysterbeds.

Regarding the tragic demise of wild oysters that succumbed to inundating sewerage waste pollutants (including industrial/chemical wastes) from New York City, see Mark Kurlansky’s THE BIG OYSTER: HISTORY ON THE HALF SHELL (New York, NY: Random House, 2006).

The efforts and politics of oyster aquaculture, striving to protect the Chesapeake bay’s “white gold” populations and industry, are described in Kate Livie’s CHESAPEAKE OYSTERS: THE BAY’S FOUNDATION AND FUTURE (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2015).


Back to the National Oyster Festival in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where they don’t intend to run out of oysters – at least not anytime soon. Lara Lutz summarizes the oyster-shucking, oyster-snacking celebrations as follows: “The National Oyster Festival in St. Mary’s County [Maryland] is an annual celebration of the Chesapeake [Bay] oyster harvest.” (Ibid.) But how did this annual tradition originate?

The 50th National Oyster Festival takes place this year [i.e., in AD2016, when Lara Lutz wrote the article being here quoted] Oct. 15-16, at the county fairground in Leonardtown [Maryland]. The annual gathering is one of the oldest [festivals] in the Chesapeake region, created and still sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lexington Park.

It was a one day event back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s [i.e., AD1960s and AD1970s]”, said David Taylor, Rotary member and former festival administrator. “At the first festival, they claimed they had 1,000 people, and it was $2 for all you can eat[!].” The festival now draws approximately 15,000 people, with more than 75 artists and nonprofit organizations showcasing displays and items for sale, including oyster prepared in just about any way possible.

There are activities for children, including small carnival rides, and a nonstop variety of live music on two stages. “It’s grown from a little festival that attracted a lot of locals to a prominent regional if not national festival”, Taylor said. Visitors and participants have come from as far as Washington state, Oregon, Colorado, Louisiana and Florida. In the ‘90s [i.e., AD1990s], an RV group from Buffalo [New York] stopped by on their way south every year.” “There’s a loyalty to it”, Taylor said. “It’s grown in size but the purpose remains the same – to celebrate the opening of oyster season in the Chesapeake Bay.”

Oysters, of course, are the main event. The festival serves up approximately 150,000 oysters each year, and the shells are used to regenerate oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. Raw and cooked oysters abound, although seafood and other Southern Maryland specialties are on the menu too. You can purchase oysters from vendors or sample top-notch recipes during cooking contests and demonstrations. Fried oysters served by the St. Mary’s County Watermen’s Association are always popular. In the Tasting Room, which was introduced in 2015, you can sample the difference between the various farm-raised [i.e., aquaculture-produced] and wild-caught oysters that are available in St. Mary’s County. . . .

The festival is also home to the National Oyster Cook-Off, which began in 1980. Hundreds of recipes are submitted every year, but only nine are selected to compete. Professional chefs judge the results, and the crowd selects a “People’s Choice”. Submitted recipes are compiled in an annual cookbook, and this year’s festival will include a commemorative collection of grand champion recipes from each year of the cook-off.

The shucking contest includes divisions for men and women. Contestants come from across the country, and the two winners [i.e., the victorious man and the victorious woman] face off to [see who will] become the U.S. Oyster Shucking Champion. Louisiana shuckers have won five times. There’s an amateur round for those with lesser skills, and all ages get in on the action. [A lot more details about the festival follow.]

Quoting from Lara Lutz, “Keep on Shuckin’ – St. Mary’s Oyster Festival Draws Fans from Across United States”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 26(6), September 2016 issue (BAY JOURNEYS insert), pages 4 & 12.


Ironically, the U.S. Oyster Festival in Southern Maryland is not the oldest oyster festival in the Chesapeake Bay region – because the Urbanna Oyster Festival, in Virginia, is 9 years older than the Southern Maryland oyster festival in Leonardtown. (Ibid.)

For current information on the Urbanna Oyster Festival , check out http://www.urbannaoysterfestival.com/index.php  —  a very informative website.  (In AD2017 the 60th Annual Urbanna Oyster Festival is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, November 3rd & 4th.)

For similar information on the one in Leonardtown, Maryland, see https://www.visitstmarysmd.com/events/st-marys-county-oyster-festival  and  http://usoysterfest.com/ .    The latter website summarizes the shucking contest as follows:

All oyster shucking contestants are timed. The speed of shucking 24 oysters is a key component of the contest. Presentation of the shucked oysters, however, is also very important. Seconds are deducted from the shucking time for improperly shucked oysters or those showing less than perfect presentation. Thus, the winners need to be fast, but also must pay attention to the appearance of the oysters they shuck. After judging is complete each contestant shares his or her oysters with the spectators in the stands.

(In AD2017 this event is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, October 21st and 22nd.)

Because the Urbanna Oyster Festival (in Urbanna, Virginia) is held in early November, about a half-month after the one in Leonardtown (Maryland), there is no calendar competition between the two oyster festivals. If you missed both of them – well, shucks! Maybe you can attend one in the near future. Music at these events is a mix – folk guitar, reggae, whatever – so you can shuck and jive.   ><>  JJSJ


PHOTO CREDITS:  oyster shucking, oysters cooking, & St. Mary’s County fairgrounds map (with event labels) adapted from https://www.visitstmarysmd.com/events/st-marys-county-oyster-festival  .

Ask a Blue Crab: If You Want to Thrive, First You Need to Survive

Ask a Blue Crab: If You Want to Thrive, First You Need to Survive

Dr. James J. S. Johnson


When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business; but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife whom he hath taken.   (Deuteronomy 24:5)

Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, like young men, do well to avoid combat –at least until they have had a decent opportunity to procreate the next generation.  To thrive, first you must survive. And, for populations, that means surviving long enough to become parents.

That’s true with every lifeform God made, from people to pinnipeds, from cranes to crabs.


Consider, for example, how this works with human populations – as the Biblical quotation above (Deuteronomy 24:5) illustrates.

To protect the population success of the Hebrew people, after they escaped slavery in Egypt, God provided a population-protective law – a newly married man was not to be assigned combat duty until he had one year at home, to spend a lot of time with his wife. From a population growth perspective, this is only “common” sense, because reproducing members of a population need to survive long enough to procreate – otherwise how can the local population thrive?  (Actually the reality seems to be fairly uncommon in many nations, nowadays, where human population growth is negative.)


And yet the same idea applies to local populations of blue crabs —  a multi-million dollar industry in the Chesapeake Bay – which is the largest bay in the world.

As with humans, for a blue crab population to thrive, surviving (long enough to reproduce) is the first and most basic requirement. If enough young adults don’t live long enough to procreate the next generation , don’t expect population stability – much less population growth!  And the yo-yo-like roller-coaster populations of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs illustrate this fact every year.

A good prognosis for Callinectes sapidus [i.e., Chesapeake Bay blue crab] The comeback for the [Chesapeake] Bay’s most valuable fishery [i.e., Chesapeake Bay blue crabs] is exactly what the experts predicted.  The 2016 wintertime survey estimated there were 553 million blue crabs in the Bay, a 35 percent increase from last year’s [i.e., AD2015’s] tally and the highest population in four years [!@].  The number of spawning-age females was estimated to be 194 million — below the recommended target of 215 million, but double what it had been the year before [i.e., AD2015].

The comeback for the Bay’s most valuable fishery [i.e., blue crabs!] is yet another sign that harvest restrictions placed on both states [i.e., Maryland and Virginia] in 2008, while painful for the crab industry, may be helping the fisheries to bounce back. Among the cuts crabbers absorbed:  limits on the number of bushels of female crabs they could take in a day, seasonal closures in Maryland of the fishery for female crabs and a complete closure of the Virginia winter dredge fishery, which overwhelmingly focused on female crabs.

[Quoting from Rona Kobell, “Crabbers, Scientist Seeing More, Larger Blue Crabs This Spring”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 26(5):11 (July-August 2016).]


It is noteworthy – in light of the Mosaic avian wildlife protection law in Deuteronomy 22:6-7 (which prohibits the predatory taking of nesting female birds found in the wild)– that protective conservation of females is the key to reproductive success of blue crabs – and thus also to the Chesapeake crustacean’s population stability and population growth.

While scientists hoped that crabs would recover quickly and watermen wanted the restrictions loosened, the story wasn’t quite that linear. The crab population rebounded, more than doubling from 2008 to 2010, but then it slumped again.  The juvenile crabs dropped dramatically in 2013, from 581 million to 111 million [!].  Scientist didn’t know the cause [from the slump], but some watermen suspected many were gobbled up by an influx of red drum [fish, which is a predator of blue crabs – especially red drum juveniles that hunt for crabs in the Chesapeake Bay’s shallows] into the Bay.  Others thought many crabs expired in oxygen-poor water [perhaps due to extra-warm water, which holds less dissolved oxygen than does cooler water].  Whatever the reason, the 2013 results were indicative of a yo-yo population that’s tough to manage.

Crabs are notoriously unpredictable, cannibalistic creatures that typically live less than three years. They reproduce prolifically, but their survival depends on a number of external factors, beginning with favorable winds to blow the larvae back into the Bay after their eggs hatch.  They also need thick underwater grasses for habitat; until recently, sediment from rainstorms and algae blooms from excess nitrogen and phosphorus [e.g., phosphate waste] have blocked the light [that otherwise shines through the surface water] that [submergent] aquatic vegetation needs to grow.

But this year [i.e., AD2016], researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported the greatest extent of Bay grasses [in shallow waters] they’d seen in three decades. Canby [i.e., C. J. Canby, a crabber who fishes 500+ crab-pots near Annapolis] and others who frequent the Bay say the water is clearer than they’ve seen in a long time, and data bear that out, at least in some areas of the Chesapeake.  . . .

Canby’s traps were fuller than any June he recalled. The skittering crabs were a beautiful blue, and so large that his customers were asking him to sort them into several sizes instead of just mixed bushels.  . . .   “They’re getting bigger,” Whalen [i.e., Bruce Whalen, manager of Cantler’s Riverside Inn, a crab house near Annapolis] said of this year [i.e., AD2016]’s crabs.  . . .

Better oyster harvests in the last several years have brought more watermen back into the [Chesapeake Bay’s oyster] fishery. Some conservationists worry the same thing will happen eventually with crabbing should the [blue crab] population bounce back, but Canby doesn’t think so.  It’s hard, unpredictable work, and it’s expensive, he said, what with the price of [crab] pots, bait and manpower increasing.  And sometimes, the wind blows blustery and the chop doesn’t stop and the equipment breaks down and the person you would call to fix it is … you.  “You gotta love this,” Canby said, “because there’s a lot of better ways to make money.”

[Quoting from Rona Kobell, “Crabbers, Scientist Seeing More, Larger Blue Crabs This Spring”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 26(5):11-13 (July-August 2016).]

© Jay Fleming

In other words, vulnerable crabs need shallow-water vegetation to hide in, so they are less of a visual “target” for predators, such as Red Drum fish. [ See also, regarding Red Drum [Sciaenops ocellatus] fish juveniles, Karl Blankenship, “The Mystery of the Missing Blue Crabs”, in Chesapeake Bay Journal, 23(8), page unknown  (posted 11-6-AD2013), at http://www.bayjournal.com/article/the_mystery_of_the_missing_blue_crabs .]

So, there you have it – something as simple as having lots of clear, sunshine-filled shallow water, in the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay, makes all the difference for blue crab population successes.


If the crabs have sufficient hiding-places, where they can evade potential predators, they can survive long enough to procreate – in the millions each spawning season.

Déjà vu!  —  surviving (long enough to successfully reproduce) is unsurprisingly critical, for thriving as a local population.  That’s why wildlife protection statutes often allude to “critical habitats” (i.e., the habitats where reproduction of the next generation either succeeds or fails), not just any habitat (such as a migratory stopover, or a winter home).

God is the inventor of habitat factors that provide protection from potential predators — as well as the provider of defensive survival traits (ecologically employed by prey populations, “fitting” them to avoid their predators).

Accordingly, Biblical creationists can appreciate this simple reality:  as the all-wise Creator of the uncountable complexities of every living creature — from people and pinnipeds, to cranes and crabs  —  God deserves credit for SURVIVAL OF THE FITTED.


Newlyweds embracing:  Chuck Espinoza (copyrighted photo used per Fair Use statute)

Blue Crab on Carolina blue background:  Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Blue Crab in net: NOAA

Blue Crabs in bushel:  Calvert Beacon  https://www.calvertbeacon.com/chesapeake-bay-blue-crabs-beginning/

Blue Crab in underwater grass:  Jay Fleming (copyrighted photo used per Fair Use statute)

Blue Crab underwater, near grass:  Harris Seafood (photo used per Fair Use statute)

Bogus Brachyurans and Counterfeit Creationists


Bogus Brachyurans and Counterfeit Creationists

Last summer, in Baltimore, I enjoyed eating “Chesapeake Bay blue crab”—but was that what I actually ate? Why am I suspicious?  Blue crab, the Chesapeake Bay’s most iconic edible species(1), also appears to be its most impersonated.

A report released April 1 [2015] … found that 38 percent of crab cakes labeled as local on menus in the region were made of an entirely different species of crab, predominantly one imported from the Indo-Pacific region.  In Annapolis and Baltimore, nearly 50 percent of “Maryland” and “Chesapeake Bay” crab cakes were mislabeled.(2)

Before getting crabby about such false advertising (a type of bait-and-switch deception), such crustacean counterfeiting should be verified.  How can portunid pretenses be proven?

“I’ve put a lot of seafood in my purse over the last few years,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, author of the report(3) … [referring to] crab cake samples that she and other testers collected [and] shipped to a lab in Florida that determined whether the cakes contained blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, and, if not, which species were used instead.  Warner said the fraud rate of 38 percent is a conservative estimate. … Mislabeling “is being done because it’s easier to sell a Maryland crab cake than one from the Philippines or Vietnam” [said Steve Vilnit, of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources].(2)

Dr. Warner lamented that bogus brachyurans are part of a treacherous trend of tricking taste-buds:

Maryland’s favorite seafood dish is not safe from a bait and switch. When diners are expecting the fresh, distinctive flavor of the Chesapeake blue crab, they may instead be served a completely different species, shipped from as far away as Indonesia. … This mislabeling rate is consistent with Oceana’s previous studies on fish and shrimp. In 2013, Oceana found that one-third of more than 1,200 fish samples were mislabeled according to [USDA] guidelines. We also found 30 percent of shrimp samples to be misrepresented to consumers in a similar study in 2014.(3)

Many restaurants, buffets, and sushi bars are swimming in similar seafood scams.  Piscatorial masquerades include pollock playing cod, icefish as anchovies, tilapia as grouper, rockfish as red snapper. Customers, who eagerly eat what is falsely advertised as “albacore” (or “white tuna”), may experience a digestive insult: the look-alike meat of escolar fish (a/k/a “snake mackerel”) is wax-loaded and promptly produces a blasting vermillion diarrhea.

So, buyer, beware seafood mislabeling.

Yet there are worse bait-and-switch scams to warily watch out for, such as “creation apologetics” ministry mislabeling. Not all that is called “Biblical” origins science is genuinely true-to-Genesis.

Some unfaithful-to-Genesis organizations overtly disclose their “creation-by-evolution” doctrines. However, most do not conspicuously admit it, when compromising the Bible’s record of origins.

But you can recognize real messages, of ministries or “experts”, by their compatibility with Genesis.

Does the advertised “creation” teaching follow the uniformitarian dogma (and eons of “deep time”) of deists Charles Lyell and James Hutton?  Is it closed-Bible deism, wedged under another name, such as “Intelligent Design Movement”?  Embracing millions/billions of years means sacrificing Genesis truth – a “huge loss – the high price for listening to a “wolf-mouth.  Does the so-called “Christian apologetics” teaching, like the syncretism of William Lane Craig and Norm Geisler, incorporate Monsignor Lemaître’s “big bang” theory?  Does it presuppose death before Adam, like Alexander Winchell (or William Dembski), within some kind of pre-Adamite “hominids-morphing-into-humans” scenario?  Or, does it promote the animistic “natural selection” idolatries of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley?  Or does it do the equivalent, defensively, by trying to shield “natural selection” sophistry from debunking, proffering “genes-in-magic bluff-and-bluster substitutes for real-world genetics?  (See 1st Timothy 6:20.)

Amazingly, as some atheists whisper their doubts about the bait-and-switch mantra “natural selection”, de facto theistic evolutionists(4) zealously defend “natural selection” as if it were a Hindu’s sacred cow or Roman Catholicism’s “sinless” Mary (Isaiah 8:20).  Where are the Berean creationists?

So how should we then live – and discern between true and false?  When scrutinizing the true ingredients—crab or shrimp or tunafish—in seafood cuisine, forensic genetics can detect the telltale DNA of the seafood actually sold. However, when scrutinizing whether an “apologetics expert” is truly a Biblical creationist, compare what those “experts” teach, specifically, with what the authoritative text of Scripture teaches (Acts 17:11).

><> JJSJ


(1)William W. Warner, Beautiful Swimmers:  Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1994, Back Bay edition), 394 pages.  This classic introduces the Chesapeake Bay’s Blue Crab and the people whose livelihoods depend upon those “beautiful swimmers”.

(2)Whitney Pipkin, “Nearly 40% of Blue Crab Mislabeled in Chesapeake Area Eateries”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 25(3):7 (May 2015).

(3)Kimberly Warner, Beth Lowell, et al., “Ocean Reveals Mislabeling of Iconic Chesapeake Blue Crab” (April 2015), 15 pages, posted at http://usa.oceana.org/sites/default/files/crab_testing_report_final_3.27.15.pdf .

(4)For example, in an ongoing (and  tragic) argument with an under-educated “natural selection” defender/advocate, on September 4th of AD2012, I wrote the following: “At the risk of being misinterpreted as simplistic, please note that a further complication of the peer review process [which all-too-often amounts to only a veneer-review process] is the simple fact that neither you [as an astronomer] nor [your cell biologist ally] have a forensic science expertise background.  Neither of you have served as a trial judge, making what are called ‘Evidence Rule 403 calls (mentioned below], i.e., to critically reject — or to approve — the usage of ‘conventional’ terminology as to its communication accountability when describing evidence, as I have since AD1996.  In other words, if we compare the creation-vs.-evolution debate to an ongoing courtroom contest, — and at times it can be educationally helpful to do so, — it makes sense that an advocate’s deceptive usage of terminology should be spotlighted and labeled for what it is, deceptive, — such as when a party tries to use bait-and-switch wordplays on the jury.  (It’s not just evolutionists who do this; e.g., Emergent Church pastors use misleading terminology all the time.)  Thus, the specific jargon at issue (i.e., ‘natural selection’) does involve biologists, to be sure, — but the thrust of the apologetics perspective is that how conventional terminology is used often indicates truth-vs.-falsity reliability (regarding the information or concepts being represented).  It is the accurate-vs.-misleading communication accountability issue that benefits from a forensic perspective, in order to expose how evolutionists use terms that are confusing and likely to mislead.   . . . Ironically, my main problem with the specific phrase ‘natural selection’ is linked to instances when I was required, as a judicial officer of the State of Texas, to make ruling that applied Evidence Rule 403, which is a rule that is used (inter alia) to bar otherwise-admissible evidence (including well-established professional jargon) if the tendency of that specific jargon is to be so inherently misleading that whatever communicative value that it may have, as industry-accepted terminology (to “insiders”), is outweighed by its semantic tendency to confuse communication about the relevant underlying facts to outsiders, — rather than to transmit accurate, relevant, precise information.  Typically a jargon objection is sustainable, under an ‘Evidence Rule 403 call’, when the objectionable term itself does not clearly match the underlying reality that it is supposed to represent, such that usage of the jargon (even though it may be ‘accepted’ jargon in the industry) is likely to mislead and confuse the evidence presentation.  An example of this is the case of Godard v. Alabama Pilot, Inc., 2007 WL 1266361, *1 (S.D. Ala. 2007), where the federal judge disallowed the use of the professional jargon “seaman” because its semantic ambiguity was interfering with the inquiry’s analysis of the core evidence.  . . .   [please review and show due respect for my earlier article posted at http://www.icr.org/article/dna-rna-providential-coding-revere/ ).”