To encourage more businesses and people to recycle oyster shells, Maryland Delegate Stephen Lafferty of Baltimore County and colleagues recently proposed legislation that would give income tax credits worth a dollar per bushel for contributing old shells to oyster restoration projects.
“We have been seeing over past decades a real loss in the amount of shell that is available for oyster restoration projects,” said Lafferty (below). “And oyster shell really is the best surface upon which new oysters can grow in the Bay.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other partners in a coalition called the Oyster Recovery Partnership for the last four years have been encouraging recycling through the “S.O.S.” or “Save Oyster Shell” campaign.
Karl Willey, Oyster Restoration Program Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said he hopes the Maryland General Assembly will pass the legislation to create the financial incentive. “I think the bill will help educate people about the value of oyster shells, and the need to recycle oysters in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Willey (pictured above left).
For thousands of years, oysters defined Chesapeake Bay. Today, only a tiny percentage of their historic populations remain because of overharvesting, pollution, and disease.
But oysters still define Chesapeake restaurants.
At the Hellas restaurant in Millersille, Maryland, for example, co-owner Michael Stavlas recently brought out a tray heaped with several of his oyster delicacies. The aroma made my stomach growl.
“We have some oysters Rockefeller here, which are baked oysters with some spinach, bacon, crab meat, and provolone cheese,” said Stavlas, who owns the restaurant with his brother John. “Stuffed oysters, which are oysters on the half shell topped with a jumbo lump crab cake. Also, some traditional Chesapeake padded oysters, which are oysters that have been breaded with a cornmeal breading and fried.”
They were delicious -– trust my reporting on this. And at 150 participating “S.O.S.” restaurants like Hellas (see partial list below), you can eat well and feel good because they are giving back to the Bay by recycling their oyster shells.
The recycled shells are returned to the Bay as the foundations upon which newly planted baby oysters grow.
“It’s very important,” Stavlas said. “We are lifelong Maryland natives, we were born and raised around the Bay. And without oyster beds it’s very difficult for marine life to live at all in the Chesapeake Bay.”
How exactly does shell recycling work? Well, after clearing off tables, restaurant workers dump the old shells into white plastic buckets behind the bar or in the kitchen.
Then the shells are trucked to locations including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland, and the University of Maryland’s Horn Point oyster hatchery on the Eastern Shore.
There, the shells are shoveled into tanks swarming with newly-spawned oyster larvae. Young oysters, called ‘spat,’ attach themselves to the shells. Work boats (including CBF’s oyster recovery vessel, the Patricia Campbell) deposit the spat-covered shells into protected sanctuaries and harvest areas in the Bay.
“Since 2000, we’ve planted nearly four billion oysters,” Abel said. “In the last year alone it was 634 million.”
Those are huge numbers, but not all the baby oysters will survive. Illegal harvesting and the diseases MSX and Dermo have slowed some past oyster restoration efforts. What’s different now? First of all, Maryland officials have expanded no-harvesting zones and are police are cracking down on poaching. Plus, scientists say oysters are developing increased resistance to MSX and Dermo. Most encouragingly, natural reproduction of oysters is up two out of the last three years.
Another positive sign: Restaurants are increasingly buying their oysters from underwater farms in the Bay. The growing number of aquaculture businesses is reducing pressure on watermen to dredge up wild oysters.
That means more oysters remain in the Bay to multiply, filter the water, and create reefs that are habitat for crabs, fish and countless other forms of life.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
For more information about Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster Restoration Center, click here.
The following restaurants in Virginia partner with CBF in oyster shell recycling:
Harpoon Larry's Oyster Bar, Hampton
Le Yaca, Williamsburg
Red Lobster, Newport News
River's Inn, Gloucester Point
Rosemary & Wine, Gloucester
Tanner's Creek Restaurant, Norfolk
Yorktown Pub, Yorktown.
And the Devil's Backbone Brewing Company.
See more by clicking here.
In Maryland, CBF works directly with these restaurants on shell recycling:
May’s Restaurant, Frederick
Stoney’s Seafood House, Solomons.
Oak Grove Marina, Edgewater.
Grapes Wine Bar, Annapolis
Starbucks, Severna Park