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James Wesson (’76), Virginia’s longtime oyster wrangler, retires


James Wesson James Wesson. Photo courtesy of Laurie Naismith, Virginia Marine Resources Commission

May 15, 2017 – James Wesson (’76 M.S. fisheries and wildlife sciences), oyster repletion chief for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, has retired after 25 years with the agency. He was recognized by the agency for his years of service and his part in the dramatic rebound of the state’s oyster industry, from near-oblivion two decades ago to the most productive on the East Coast.

Wesson is Gloucester, Virginia, native and a crabber by trade, but a slump in crabbing around 1990 sent him into state service. His impact on the state’s oyster stocks is significant — according to the marine resources commissioner, Virginia’s oyster harvests have skyrocketed from 30,000 bushels a decade ago to 619,000 bushels last year.

When oyster counts bottomed out in 1996 owing to disease, overharvesting, and habitat loss, Wesson pushed for limits on oystering to conserve what was left. He established a “rotational harvest” regimen, where watermen could only work areas for a limited time every two or three years. In the off years, the reefs would be restocked with shells if need be and new generations of oysters would be allowed to settle and grow to marketable size. This program has since drawn interest in Maryland.

Wesson plans to continue living in Gloucester, wants to spend more time hunting and traveling, and has several research projects in mind.

Adapted from the Bay Journal.

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