Reporting Alex DeMetrick
EASTON, Md. (WJZ) – It’s a shell game with an awful lot riding on it: restore enough oysters and improve the Chesapeake Bay’s waters.
Alex DeMetrick reports it’s an ongoing effort with big players and small.
About $300 million is being spent to rebuild healthy oyster reefs in Maryland waters. Old shells carrying baby oysters raised in a state lab are scattered into protected sanctuaries.
“We’re almost to a billion oysters and that’s a record-breaking year for us,” said Heather Epkins, Oyster Recovery Partnership.
But far smaller efforts are also gaining momentum. Marylanders are growing them off their docks.
“Every oyster really matters to the Chesapeake Bay so any effort, no matter how small, is an effort to change the bay,” Epkins said.
The Maryland Grows Oysters program started in one tributary five years ago. Today, it’s up to 30 tributaries, involving 1,700 households growing 7,500 cages of oysters.
A common motivator is memory.
“During the summertime, you could go to the end of the dock and actually see the bottom and see the grasses that were thick. It was just wonderful growing up,” said Scott Eglseder.
So Scott Eglseder is thinking about docks in Talbot, Queen Anne’s and Dorchester counties and has been working to sign up homeowners to raise oysters in cages.
“If each of the dock owners had four of these devices on an annual basis, that would produce about 24 million oysters,” he said.
Those would be added to the sanctuaries, and the more the better for the bay.
“One adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day. If you think of all those millions of oysters, they’re just a factory for cleaning the bay,” said Tom Zolper, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
While it’s a human effort now, the hope is nature will eventually take over.
“The hope is that these oysters will reproduce in the wild on those sanctuaries,” Epkins said.
In addition to oyster restoration, the state program also hopes to educate and raise public awareness about what’s at stake for the bay.