The US will decide this winter whether to list the Eastern Oyster under its Endangered Species Act, amid fears that it could decimate the industry.

The National Fisheries Institute says the listing - prompted by a petition from a Chesapeake Bay area environmental group - could wipe out thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for local communities.

Just over a century ago, more than 45 million kilograms were harvested from the bay annually, compared to 106,000 kilograms in 2003, as disease now kills most oysters before they are commercially viable in size and age.

Opponents want the problem handled regionally, since the oysters are abundant throughout Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Mexico, where more than a billion oysters were harvested in 2003. Before Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana led US production with almost half of the national harvest.