I recently wrote a post for That’s Life Science, a science blog run by peers at the University of Massachusetts Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Program. It covers a sliver of the giant topic that is the history of conservation in the United States.
Here’s an excerpt from the post Hug an Oyster for Wildlife Conservation:
A group of birders peer avidly through binoculars at a rare sighting in a town park . Fishermen cast into the Refuge’s coastal surf, hoping to land the catch of a lifetime. Hikers at a National Monument stare in awe at an ewe in the distance. All of these diverse outdoors experiences are linked by the public land and wildlife in them. Have you ever wondered how our wildlife and wild spaces got protected for the public to enjoy? It hasn’t always been like this in the United States and there are still groups aiming to privatize public resources. To understand what a public land even is, we may have an oyster or two to thank…
Shellfish have been an important harvest across the East Coast of the United States starting long before colonization . European colonists quickly followed the lead of Native Americans in accessing the massive bounty of these morsels. As more settlers came in and the United States began to grow as a nation, so did the consumption of this popular mollusc. The oyster capital was Baltimore, located in the Chesapeake Bay. The name itself gives away it’s shellfish importance, likely derived from the Algonquin word “Chesipiook,” meaning “Great Shellfish Bay” .
By the mid-1800’s oysters were being canned (Fig. 1) or shipped on ice to distant American markets from the central-Atlantic states , leading to a maritime “wild-west” of oyster pirates coming from New England and the start of “Oyster Wars” between rowdy crews of sailors  where gunfights could break out when ships got close to each other. Some folks claimed these “Yankee” pirates were taking what belonged to them. States passed legislation curtailing harvest by non-residents, but enforcement was difficult. Even the Civil War barely hindered the rate of harvest. As demand continued to rise, ship captains would sometimes resort to drugging and kidnapping sailors from bars and brothels to get enough seamen to work for the season…..
Read the rest of the post here!