Over the last 25 years, ORP has planted 8.5 billion oysters in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay to increase the population, improve water quality, and support the regional seafood economy. Here’s how:
Maryland is midway through a strategy to restore and protect oysters in five Chesapeake Bay tributaries: Harris Creek, and the Little Choptank, the Tred Avon, the St. Mary’s and the Manokin Rivers. Harris Creek, at 351 acres (roughly the size of the U.S. National Mall), is one of the largest man-made reef systems in the world. It has some of the highest densities of oysters found on Maryland reefs - and those oysters are capable of filtering its entire volume of water in less than 10 days during summer months.
Working closely with scientists from the Department of Natural Resources and contracting with commercial watermen, ORP began to help rebuild public fishery reefs in 2012. Since then - and on an annual basis - county waterways receive thousands of bushels of recycled shell and millions of juvenile oysters. Maryland’s oyster harvest, once the envy of the world, remains an important part of the state’s economy and dozens of waterfront communities.
Oyster aquaculture (oyster farming) is Maryland’s fastest growing seafood sector. ORP has supported aquaculture expansion through training opportunities, as well as access to low- and no-cost equipment and supplies to watermen throughout the state. Since 2011, 88 leaseholders have participated in our training program, producing more than 1.5 billion spat-on-shell that have been planted back on to leased bottom around the Bay.
Oyster shell is the building block of an oyster reef - and it is in short supply. ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance® (SRA), launched in 2009, has collected 200,000+ bushels of shell at no cost on a weekly basis from 450 total participating restaurants and members in Maryland, Washington, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The SRA now contributes one third of the shell ORP needs annually for restoration and supports the planting of 950 million oysters in Chesapeake Bay waterways. The SRA has also kept 6,650 tons of shell out of area landfills and saved local businesses approximately $300,000 in waste collection fees!
ORP IN THE COMMUNITY
ORP participates in hundreds of community events every year, everything from local oyster festivals and community meetings to corporate events and the annual “National Oyster Day” in August. These face-to-face connections raise awareness about oysters’ importance in the Bay - and often engage volunteers, giving them hands on experience!
MARYLANDERS GROW OYSTERS
Thousands of waterfront property owners and communities volunteer their time to participate in ORP’s Marylanders Grow Oysters program by hanging cages of juvenile oysters from their docks and piers until the oysters are large enough to be planted on local sanctuary reefs. Over the program’s 10-year lifespan, it has grown to 34 participating Chesapeake Bay tributaries and produced tens of millions of healthy oysters. In 2018, participants raised 4.5 million oysters at their docks.
Maryland’s seafood industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. With restaurants closed or operating at limited capacity, the demand for seafood supply has significantly decreased. To help, we created a digital campaign to encourage individuals to purchase and consume Chesapeake seafood. The campaign includes a vlog series featuring interviews with industry representatives sharing how the pandemic affected their business – see part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. As most oyster events and festivals are cancelled, we’re hosting fun, virtual happy hours, called Sip ‘n Shucks, to engage the public with our favorite bivalve. Event partners include Maryland Department of Agriculture, restaurants and catering companies (Oysters XO, The Walrus Oyster and Ale House, The Curious Oyster, Harry Browne’s), aquaculture farms (Hollywood Oyster, Orchard Point Oyster Co.), beverage companies (Flying Dog, Wither Hills), shuckers (Gardner Douglas aka “The Oyster Ninja”, Toni Lopes), and more! To facilitate oyster purchasing, we partnered with Oysters XO and Orchard Point Oyster Co. to launch the Maryland Oyster Starter Kit, literally everything one needs to enjoy oysters at home! With a COVID-19 relief timeline uncertain, we will indefinitely and enthusiastically continue promoting Maryland seafood!