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The famous bivalve is still harvested extensively in the lower Potomac, although a devastating tropical storm in 1972 dumped huge amounts of fresh water in the river, killing many oysters. Oysters have been taken from the Potomac river bottom for more than three centuries, peaking in the enormous harvests of the early 20th century. The Potomac's combination of salinity, low level of disease and predators, and large areas suitable for growth, stimulated the development of many productive oyster beds. But declines in oyster reproduction, combined with overharvesting, siltation, and pollution from upstream sources, have led to a continued decline in harvests through the 1980s and into the 1990s. The 1992-93 oyster season in Maryland totalled only about 120,000 bushels, an all-time low, and a fraction of the 2.5 million bushels harvested annually in the 1970s. Scientists blamed oyster diseases for keeping the oysters from growing to market size. The diseases are not harmful to humans, but they reduce the size of oysters, which cannot be harvested if they are below a certain size. Similar low levels of harvesting were reported in Virginia. Research is aimed at fighting the diseases, improving oyster habitat, and perhaps introducing disease-resistant species of oysters to revive the industry. The oyster has had an important role in Potomac history. A compact between Maryland and Virginia in 1785 allowed fishing in the river by watermen from both states. Cooperation between the two states continued until the supply of oysters began to dwindle, at which point Maryland imposed restrictions on harvesting. Virginia watermen, refusing to honor the Maryland regulations, evaded enforcement activities and became involved in gun battles, called the "oyster wars." Another compact, signed in 1958, ended the hostilities and created a bistate commission (headquartered in Virginia) that continues to regulate the fishery and enforce regulations. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission patrols the river to enforce rules against power dredging of oysters and other practices considered harmful. The commission levies a charge on each bushel of oysters harvested, putting most of the funds raised to replenishment of oyster growing beds. Since oysters generally grow on the shells of other oysters, the commission has an extensive program of rebuilding shell beds in key locations in the Potomac and its tributaries. St. Mary's County is the site of the annual Oyster Festival and the National Oyster Shucking Championship Contest, sponsored by the Rotary Club of St. Mary's County every year during the third weekend in October. Oyster shucking champions from up to a dozen states compete for cash prizes and a trip to the international oyster shucking championship held in Galway, Ireland, every year. The Oyster Festival also has a cook-off featuring a variety of soups, stews, and dishes with oysters as the main ingredient. St. Mary's County Osyter Festival, P.O. Box 766, California, MD 20619. Telephone: 301-863-5015. St. Mary's County Historical Society, 11 Courthouse Drive, Leonardtown, MD 20650.