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:
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the beginning of our planting season until June. Nevertheless, working together with the UMCES Horn Point Hatchery, ORP’s restoration team produced and planted nearly 185 million spat-on-shell on nearly 50 acres of sanctuary reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. Again this year, the Little Choptank River, Harris Creek, and Tred Avon River were the focus of much of ORP’s work to restore oyster populations in five Bay tributaries by 2025. Work in the Little Choptank River was completed in 2020! At over 358 acres and taking more than 2 billion baby oysters planted this is one of the largest oyster restoration projects in the world! To date, ORP has planted more than 8½ billion juvenile oysters in the Bay’s waters. ORP’s long-term monitoring program continued to monitor restored reefs in 2020. The program documented thriving three and six-year-old reefs providing evidence that restoration goals are being met.
Because the public fishery was deemed an essential operation during the early stages of the pandemic, ORP’s work to plant and replant public oyster reefs proceeded at full speed in 2020. ORP worked closely with Maryland’s 11 county oyster committees to enhance these reefs and ensure their continued success for years to come. These repletion efforts, largely funded by industry through per-bushel surcharges paid by watermen, resulted in 215,000 bushels of shell and nearly 250 million spat-on-shell going on public reefs in 2020.
ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance collects free of charge from collection sites and hundreds of restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic, making it the largest oyster shell recycling network in the nation. Until 2020, ORP was seeing increased collection totals every year. This year, the organization has recycled less than half of average projections: approximately 15,000 bushels in 2020, compared to 36,000 bushels in 2019. Even though restaurant operations were significantly impacted by the pandemic, ORP crews remained steadfast in their quest to collect shell from the approximately 100 operational SRA restaurants, and ORP’s 70 public drop sites.
MARYLANDERS GROW OYSTERS
The Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program took place in September and October of 2020. ORP distributed almost 6,000 cages filled with spat-on-shell to coordinators representing 23 Chesapeake Bay tributaries. While not the largest volume of bags in the program’s history, the 2020 MGO program adhered to strict social distancing and hygienic measures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The approximate number of spat-on shell produced by UMCES Horn Point Oyster Hatchery for the program was more than 3.6 million! MGO engages more than 2,000 growers who donate their time and effort to support the growth of young oysters during their most vulnerable first year of life.
With many Bay-area restaurants closed or operating at limited capacity, dining and seafood sales have dropped dramatically. This especially affects the oyster industry, as harvesters have ready-to-eat Chesapeake Bay oysters and limited places to sell them. ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance is also experiencing a critical shell shortage that will affect future reef restoration projects. ORP has spent the past several months encouraging residents to enjoy the Bay’s bounty at home. Promoting local seafood through a four-part vlog, hosting four virtual shucking events, highlighting public shell collection sites, and sharing a comprehensive guide on how consumers can support the seafood industry. From oyster farms, seafood markets, restaurants, caterers and other industries, we’ve spotlighted more than 50 local businesses through events and promotions.
The Bay Paddle, an epic, 203-mile stand-up paddle board journey to raise awareness and funds for oyster restoration, took place Sept. 18 – 26, 2020. The paddler, Chris Hopkinson, traversed the length of the Bay from Havre de Grace, MD to the Atlantic Ocean, completing his journey on Saturday, September 26. Some fun facts: Chris took more than 134,400+ paddle strokes, covered 203 miles, burned 27,000 calories, and paddled for more than 55 hours total! His efforts resulted in over $183,000 raised for oyster plantings in Maryland and Virginia, enough to plant more than 18 million new oysters!