Since before the arrival of European settlers, residents of Gloucester have been harvesting the bounty of the Bay. The waters are home to more than 2,700 species of plants and animals. Commercially important species are blue crabs, clams, oysters and numerous varieties of fin fish.
Besides a source of food, oysters (filter feeders) are critical to the health of the Bay. In Colonial times, oysters could completely filter all the water in the Bay in three to four days, today it takes a year. Around 1900, over 17 million bushels of oysters were harvested in Maryland and Virginia annually. By 1993, the total harvest was under 200,000 bushels. The decrease in filtration has increased the development of zooplankton and their predator, jellyfish.
With a population of over 15 million people in the watershed, the resilience of the Bay has been severely stressed. The states that make up the watershed have committed to improve the quality of the Bay through the Chesapeake Bay Act. Pollution from human and animal waste products and fertilizers are two areas of particular concern in efforts to restore water quality. Guidelines for the reduction of pollutants have been developed in conjunction with state and local authorities. The proper use of fertilizers, restoration of wetlands and establishment of riparian buffers (trees and shrubs along stream banks) can provide tremendous benefits to local areas and the entire Bay system.