Restoring Oysters for the Bay
Locals join efforts to produce oyster nurseries for the health of local rivers and the Bay.
Broadneck’s original inhabitants understood the importance of the Bay’s oyster population. They named our beloved waterway Chesapeake, which is Algonquin for great shellfish bay and regularly consumed oysters as their shellfish of preference.
Oysters were a particularly important part of the native diet in the late winter and early spring while food sources were scarce. Today, we still consume a mammoth quantity of oysters but more as a luxury than as a necessity.
Part of the luxury associated with oysters is related to the decline in their population and therefore the strain on the oyster supply. It is often said that there used to be enough oysters lining the bottom of the bay to filter all of its water in a single week and that it would take the current population an entire year to perform the same task.
It is a common misconception that pollution levels in the bay have contributed to the decline in the local oyster population. In reality, the oyster’s failure has actually led to an increase in pollution. These creatures are responsible for filtering about 50 gallons of water per day. Their bivalve anatomy draws in water, consumes its nutrients and plankton, and ejects the filtered water. Oyster’s consumption of algae and phytoplankton help regulate gas and nutrient levels in the water.
In recent years, residents of the Chesapeake region have sought to replenish the Bay’s oyster population through oyster gardening, nurseries, and seeding. Residents of the Broadneck Peninsula are jumping onboard the oyster restoration effort in the hope that cultivating these oyster farms will help to replenish the population and cleanse the waters of the Magothy and Severn Rivers.
Organizations such as the Magothy River Association and the Cape Claire Community Association have spearheaded this movement through the creation of oyster nurseries. These nurseries are large tanks where bay water is plumbed through to provide nutrients to oyster babies known as spat. Once matured, the oysters will be transplanted to larger oyster reefs.
Along the waterfronts, many oyster floats can also be seen dangling from underneath piers. These floats are packed with hay and barley and equipped with floats that keep them at the water’s surface. Adding a few to your own dock is a great way for your family to become involved in the Chesapeake restoration effort and to clean up the water in your own creek or cove.
Like the oyster tanks, the floats are seeded with oysters but are hung beneath your docks so they can use the natural bay habitat to grow the babies. These floats are hung in an orientation that will not interfere with your boats or mare the image of your backyard.
Oyster restoration programs like these have received a great deal of support from the state with Governor O’Malley participating in the initial kickoff. The oyster floats are sometimes manufactured by Maryland inmates. The state offers a tax incentive of up to $500 for oyster gardening which will offset the cost of the equipment for most programs.
Locally, Oyster King is a great option for setting up your own nursery. This company offers floating oyster tanks, and their package includes the 700-1000 oysters. They will come to your home and maintain the garden by cleaning off the shells and maintaining your floats.
In Annapolis, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation offers a workshop for $75, on oyster gardening where participants learn how to build their own floating cages. Oysters grown through these programs are gathered later to plant in reefs. The costs of this program and materials for cages are tax deductible.
Another local option is Chesapeake Bay Savers, who will give you the float for free but may accept donations to cover cost of building it. Such donations like these are tax deductible.
With such abundant resources and fervent activism, the outlook for the peninsula’s oyster population is optimistic. Oyster farming has planted millions of oysters back into the Bay since these programs began in the 1990’s.
In your adventures this weekend, stop by the community dock in Cape St Claire and check out their oyster tank (at the intersections of Swan, Skyway, and Riverbay Drive). It is on display with several small oyster cages.
Or if you really want to gain a great appreciation of the oyster, drop down to Deep Creek Restaurant this weekend and treat yourself to the oyster stew. Decorated with wilted spinach and chopped tomatoes, it is an absolute delicacy. If you feel any uncertainty about the divine indulgence of the oyster during the winter months and the necessity of oyster restoration in our community, this soup will help you to clarify it.