Though Walter Zadan recently celebrated his 90th birthday, the Williamsburg resident keeps up a schedule that is unusual for a nonagenarian. Every week he stops by several Williamsburg restaurants to pick up heavy buckets laden with empty oyster shells. He then drives these shells a few miles away to dump into outdoor collection bins.
Zadan is part of a network of volunteers across Virginia that collects these shells for oyster restoration efforts by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. For Zadan, his routine at the restaurants incorporates the three things needed for a long and happy life.
"The first thing is to eat good food. The second thing is to exercise. The third thing is to stay connected to society, and feel like you are doing something good," Zadan said.
The volunteer job is a great match for someone who has spent decades both working with restaurants and as an environmental advocate. Zadan has lived in Williamsburg since 1998, but he was born in New Jersey and has moved around the East Coast. While in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, he became involved in fighting smog and pollution.
That interest carried over after he arrived in Norfolk in 1987 to work as a culinary teacher. Back then, when contacting seafood suppliers he was surprised at the lack of local fresh fish, crabs, and oysters in a city on the water. "I was shocked by what I was hearing compared to what I had been used to," Zadan said.
Zadan learned about sources of pollution to the Bay and resolved to do something about it.
"I got very concerned about it," he said. "Why should I, as a citizen, be abused by people who dump stuff into the Chesapeake Bay. I support the fishermen. People who work the Bay have a right to earn their living."
Since the early 1990s Zadan has been a member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and volunteered with various projects, including public speaking on reducing pollution in waterways. He has worked on oyster shell recycling for about nine years.
The foundation has about 15 oyster shell recycling volunteers in Williamsburg and estimates there are more than 50 shell recycling volunteers in the state, spread out from the Charlottesville area all the way down to the city of Chesapeake.
The shell recycling process is a full cycle. Restaurants save shells after meals to become building blocks for new oyster reefs. Volunteers pick up these shells to deposit in designated oyster shell recycling bins around the state. Zadan normally recovers shells from Berret's Seafood Restaurant and Waypoint Seafood & Grill to drop off at a bin on the campus of William and Mary.
When the bins are full, Zadan and other volunteers help shovel the shells into a truck to be driven to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's oyster restoration center in Gloucester Point. There the empty shells are cleaned and placed into large tanks with free-swimming baby oyster larvae, called spat. The empty shells make great homes for spat, which must attach to a hard surface in order to grow into oysters. Just one empty shell can become the home for a dozen or more full-grown oysters.
The spat-laden shells are loaded onto a boat, where they are dropped onto protected oyster reefs to boost the wild oyster population. Just last year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation planted 5 million oysters in the Lafayette River in Norfolk.
Volunteers like Zadan are crucial to every step of the process, from gathering shells from restaurants to planting the baby oysters in rivers and the Bay, said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Oyster Restoration Specialist Heather North. "There is no way we could do this without our volunteers," North said.
"Walter is a real inspiration. At 90, he is showing us all just what is possible." North added that Zadan's long career in the food industry has helped the program work better with restaurants.
For his part, Zadan said that being part of the process gives him hope. "I feel like I'm making a contribution," he said. "It's a good thing both from a moral point of view and because it encourages business activity." He hopes that he can continue to inspire younger generations to work toward a healthier Chesapeake Bay. "Someone who's only 65 may look at me and say 'if a guy who is that age can do it, I can do it too,'" he said.
—Kenny Fletcher, CBF Virginia Communications Coordinator
The following first appeared in the Daily Times.
In the current hostile political climate, we can't seem to agree on any government policy.
The bipartisan poll was conducted by two polling companies, one Republican, one Democratic.
"This is about as overwhelming as you can get on any public policy issue," said Lori Weigel, a pollster with the Republican firm, Public Opinion Strategies.
There's just one problem. The future of Maryland oyster sanctuaries is at risk. A proposal presented by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) would open up a net of nearly 1,000 acres of oyster sanctuaries to be harvested.
Maryland established the sanctuaries years ago as an insurance policy for the future of the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.
Fifty-one of these areas are scattered throughout the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. They represent a quarter of all oyster reefs.
In these underwater nurseries oysters can grow large, and reproduce. At least until now.
Opening the sanctuaries for harvest would be a major policy change for Maryland. DNR Secretary Mark Belton emphasized to a legislative committee recently that the proposal is preliminary.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation adamantly opposes any reduction in the oyster sanctuaries. So do 29 other conservation groups that signed a letter in opposition, which was submitted to DNR and the OAC, whose members are appointed by DNR.
The oyster harvest industry favors harvesting in sanctuaries. The number of licensed harvesters has doubled in recent years, and the industry wants more places to work. About three-quarters of the oyster reefs in Maryland already are open to harvest.
Nevertheless, the industry has proposed harvesting once every four years in some nurseries, the idea being that oysters would be allowed to grow in the years in between.
The current oyster population in the Chesapeake is estimated to be less than 1 percent of its historic size. The population has been devastated by overharvesting, water pollution, and disease.
Scientists say the sanctuaries are critical to safeguard against the unthinkable – losing the last remaining oysters in the Chesapeake – and to reverse the fate of the iconic bivalve.
Following those warnings, the state increased the area of sanctuary reefs in 2010 from 9 percent to 24 percent. At the same time, the state loosened regulations on oyster farming to help watermen increase their livelihoods.
The current policy is working.
A DNR report this past July concluded oysters are thriving in many of the sanctuary reefs. And oyster farming has surged, bringing added income to many watermen.
We must leave well enough alone.
The oysters on sanctuaries develop resistance to the periodic bouts of disease that flare up when water salinity increases, and spread that resistance to other reefs.
Given time, these reefs will grow vertically by many feet. Oyster reefs around the bay used to be so tall, colonial ships would go aground.
But centuries of harvesting and other assaults have collapsed the reefs into oyster "beds" – structures easily covered up by silt. Leaving sanctuary reefs alone will allow them to rise above this perpetual problem.
Permitting even occasional harvesting in these protected areas destroys the vertical growth, removes the large disease resistant oysters, and kills the nursery function.
Oysters can play a vital role in restoring the bay to health. Undisturbed oyster reefs are habitat for fish and other sea life. They also can filter millions of gallons of water – for no charge.
These structures literally can provide the building blocks of a restored Chesapeake Bay.
Marylanders are saying in no uncertain terms: Protect oyster sanctuaries.
—Alison Prost, CBF Maryland Executive Director
With more than six million residents, Maryland is a melting pot of diverse citizens, with different political leanings, religious beliefs, and racial backgrounds. Differences aside, all Marylanders are affected by the health of the state's rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Integral to the health of the Bay is the mighty oyster. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters.
Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting. In 2010, Maryland and other Bay states joined together to increase the native oyster population, establishing sanctuary reefs to allow oysters to proliferate unencumbered by harvesting. These reefs grew and expanded, with the estimated number of oysters in the Bay more than doubling between 2010 and 2014.
A recent poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found Marylanders understand and appreciate this success, with overwhelming support to maintain existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries.
The numbers speak for themselves:
This strong support exists across party lines, as approximately 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans support sanctuaries. Moreover, public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry's reasons for wanting to expand harvesting, rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.
This consensus is quite a contrast to the recently submitted proposal by the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission to let the oyster industry harvest nearly 1,000 acres of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting.
Currently, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill (HB 924) which would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018.
The success of Maryland and the Bay, North America's largest estuary and a true national treasure, are mutually interdependent. Shaping more than just the state's coastline, Maryland's economy, culture, and history are covered with the Bay's fingerprints. No critter is more important to this success than the oyster. And while the recent State of the Bay report finds the health of the Bay is rebounding, it remains a system dangerously out of balance.
Those who call the Old Line State home might have their differences, but Marylanders across the board agree on this: Our oyster sanctuaries are worth protecting.
—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate
The following first appeared in the Chestertown Spy.
The fate of Maryland's oyster population is being worked out in a church basement in Annapolis.
That's where the state Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meets the second Monday of each month. This is the group appointed by Governor Hogan to review the state's oyster management system, and to recommend changes, if necessary.
This past Monday night was perhaps the most important OAC meet so far. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented a proposal to open up about 970 acres of 'sanctuary' oyster reefs to harvest.
As I have on several occasions, I sat in on the OAC meeting. But it was difficult to sit still.
The makeup of the OAC is controversial, filled mostly with watermen and those who sympathize with their views. The direction the OAC is taking also is controversial.
The controversy brings out the crowds. The OAC meetings used to take place in a meeting room at the DNR headquarters right next door. So many people began showing up, DNR had to move the meeting to the fellowship hall of the Calvary United Methodist Church on Rowe Blvd. Now even that room is often jammed.
Watermen feel the state has cheated them. Under prior governor Martin O'Malley the state increased the acres of productive oyster reefs set aside as sanctuaries—those areas that can't be harvested. O'Malley himself was guided by scientists' warnings that so few oysters remained in the Chesapeake that the status quo was no longer viable.
With input from everyone involved with oysters, the harvest industry included, O'Malley increased from nine percent to 24 percent the portion of oyster bars protected as sanctuaries. Three-quarters of reefs were to remain open to harvest. He also relaxed decades-old regulations to give watermen more opportunities to farm oysters rather than harvest them in the wild. In Virginia, oyster aquaculture is a booming business, but at the time of O'Malley's new plan it was negligible in Maryland. The idea was to boost watermen's earnings, and simultaneously to take out an insurance plan for the future of oysters in the Bay.
There's no doubt short term watermen took a hit. They had fewer places to harvest, although fortunately for them Mother Nature provided strong oyster reproduction for several years, resulting in strong harvests.
Scientists and groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) where I work sympathized with the watermen. But we believed someone had to take the long view before oysters were wiped out completely.
CBF, along with a host of western and Eastern Shore groups such as the Midshore River Conservancy, St. Mary's River Watershed Association, and others, believe the OAC proposal to shrink the sanctuaries is ill-advised. At a minimum, the state must wait till DNR finishes a stock assessment of the oyster population. You wouldn't start spending more money without knowing what's in your bank account. That's exactly what the proposal would do.
It would open up 1,277 acres of sanctuaries for harvest in the following rivers and Bay segments: Upper Chester, Miles, Wye, Upper Choptank, Hooper Strait, Upper Patuxent, and Tangier Sound. It would expand sanctuaries by 300 acres in: Mill Hill/Prospect Bay, Eastern Bay, Lower Choptank, and Nanticoke River. The net result would be 977 fewer acres in sanctuaries, an 11 percent reduction in those sanctuary acres.
It's only 11 percent, you might say. But it's 11 percent of the most productive, healthy sanctuary bars in the Bay. And it is giving away these protected areas before we have any idea the true size of the oyster population. That's not scientific. That's not sound judgment. Harvesting oysters on those 977 previously protected acres could do irreversible damage to the fragile population.
A bill in the Maryland General Assembly, HB 924, would freeze any alterations in the sanctuaries till after the stock assessment. Oyster harvesting is the only major fishery in Maryland that isn't managed with a science-based plan. It pays us to wait till we have the science before we implement a major change such as OAC is considering.
The bill will be heard this Friday, Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. We urge people concerned about the proposal to shrink sanctuaries to make their voice heard.
—Tom Zolper, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations
Approaching a ragtag team of CBF volunteers and staff, my first observation was the putrid stench lofting from the truck lovingly called the, "Spatmobile." On a mild December day last week, CBF partnered with the South River Federation to plant 200,000 spat-on shell and 87,000 adult oysters.
Covered in oyster "goo"—a combination of oyster refuse, mud, and algae—volunteers tackled the dirty work of oyster planting with vigor. Like a well-oiled machine, volunteers cut open bags of oysters, dumped them into baskets, and carried them to the dock to await transport on a skiff to their eventual new home in the South River.
These oysters are crucial in the fight to save the Bay. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters. Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting.
Volunteer Bill Wheeler learned that while this oyster planting was a small step in the right direction, restoring the Bay's native oyster population won't happen overnight. "One thing I found out about oysters that's just fantastic is they start out as all male and then they change sex later on. So it's important that when you reseed a reef you have to do it over a couple years because they can't breed if they're all males." Indeed, sanctuary reefs are critical in oyster restoration efforts.
As the group wrapped up the oyster planting, I finally commented on the stench. Without missing a beat, Pat Beall, CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist exclaimed, "This is the smell of saving the Bay!" The foul odor largely consists of oyster poo—the oysters clean the water by consuming pollutants and either eating them or shaping them into small, mucous packets, which are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless. So quite literally, the stench is the smell of a saved Bay.
I don't particularly look forward to the next time I get a whiff of the Spatmobiles precious cargo, but with the support of our dedicated volunteers and generous members, I'm grateful that with every oyster we plant, we'll generate cleaner water, vital habitat for critters, and ultimately, a healthier Bay.
Join us in this critical oyster restoration work. With programs in both Maryland and Virginia, volunteer opportunities include oyster gardening, shell shaking, and oyster planting. And with holiday feasts approaching, there is more opportunity to help by recycling your oyster shells.
—Text and Photos by Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate
For 27 years, my family and neighbors have spent Thanksgiving on the banks of Stove Point, overlooking Fishing Bay and the mouth of the Piankatank River in Virginia. From there, we eat raw oysters, drink Bloody Marys, and glance out over the Bay's gray, November waters.
To me, there's no better place or time of year to experience the Chesapeake.
I'm grateful for that day, that place, that moment with family and friends. And I'm thankful for you, too. As CBF supporters, your generosity and friendship make everything we do possible. Because of you, in this year alone, we planted more than 46 million native oysters on reefs and 17,000 trees across the watershed. We gave 40,000 students and teachers unforgettable experiences on our rivers, streams, and Bay so that they will learn to love and protect these waters like we do.
All of these things were only made possible through your commitment to clean water.
And as a small token of our gratitude, please enjoy Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough's favorite oyster stuffing recipe just in time for the holidays. It's the perfect addition to a hearty meal on a cold winter's day.
What's more, it's the perfect way to celebrate Bill's last month with CBF. After 38 years of tirelessly fighting for the Bay's rockfish, oysters, and crabs, Bill will be retiring in December. And we are so incredibly grateful for and proud of his extraordinary efforts to restore this Bay we all love.
We've accomplished so much over the years thanks to your dedication, passion, and generosity. Thank you again for all that you do to Save the Bay.
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media
The lazy, dog days of summer might be upon us, but saving the Bay never stops. Despite the out of office messages and plentiful distractions summer brings, we need you now. A critical pillar in our approach to save the Bay is advocacy. Put simply, your voice matters. In a world where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, we need to make a lot of noise on several critical Bay issues.
We've said it many times—oysters are awesome. A water-filtering powerhouse, an adult oyster is capable of cleaning up to 50 gallons of water every day. Oysters also provide critical habitat for other Bay critters through the development of oyster reefs. Despite their numerous benefits, the Bay's oyster population is at less than one-percent of historical levels, after decades of disease, habitat destruction, and overharvesting. In efforts to save this precious bivalve, sanctuaries have been set aside, off-limits to harvest, to allow the oyster population to rebound. This week, Maryland's Oyster Advisory Committee to the Governor recommended continuing a small stretch of an oyster restoration project in Maryland's Tred Avon would benefit all stakeholders. A final decision by Governor Hogan is expected any moment. This good news comes with a grain of salt, however—a much larger stretch of this project still hangs in the balance, and even worse, there has been discussion on opening current oyster sanctuaries up to harvest. Stand up for Maryland's Oysters—TAKE ACTION NOW.
We've also said many times, as goes the Susquehanna, so goes the Chesapeake Bay. A critical economic resource and a bastion of cultural heritage in Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River provides 50 percent of the Bay's freshwater. For several months now we have been petitioning for the Susquehanna River to be declared impaired. Since 2005, diseased and dying smallmouth bass have been found in the river. A recent study by Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection found that endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides, and pathogens and parasites are the most-likely causes of diseased and dying fish in the Lower Susquehanna. The state of the smallmouth bass fishery testifies to the devastating impact of pollution. An impaired listing for the Lower Susquehanna would allow the restoration process to begin in earnest, designating the river for additional study and new levels of investment in restoration. TAKE ACTION BY AUGUST 31, and help save the Susquehanna River and its vital smallmouth bass fishery for future generations.
These are just two of the major issues we're engaging in our fight to save the Bay. That's not to mention our work to stop sewage spills in Baltimore, maintain a sustainable harvest quota for menhaden, and protect critical habitat area for the Atlantic sturgeon. Saving the Bay never stops. Raise your voice now for the Bay and its critters. The Bay is a national treasure, and through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and with your help, we will save it for our children and grandchildren.
This Week in the Watershed: Filtering Bivalves, Sick Bass, and An Important Fish
- CBF Pennsylvania Director Harry Campbell writes on how CBF is helping students chart a course for cleaner water. (York Daily Record—PA)
- Regulators for menhaden, often called "the most important fish in the sea," tabled discussions of reevaluating quotas until an October meeting. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA) Bonus: CBF Statement
- We couldn't agree more this editorial arguing that oyster sanctuaries remain restricted from harvest. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
- A Maryland commission agreed to continue oyster restoration efforts on a small stretch of the Tred Avon, a tributary of the Choptank River. A hearing will take place on August 9, regarding the future of a much larger stretch of the Tred Avon project. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Statement
- Pollution is plaguing not only the Susquehanna River, but many of its tributaries, including those in York County. (York Daily Record—PA)
- A report on Maryland's oyster population from the MD Department of Natural Resources reveals signs of revival in sanctuaries and decline in areas open to harvest. Troubling, the report leans towards recommending opening some sanctuaries to harvest, when the conclusions of the report indicate the opposite. (Washington Post—D.C.)
- The 19th annual Paddle for the Bay in Norfolk was a hit, with hundreds of paddlers on the water. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA)
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declined to list the Susquehanna River as impaired, despite decades of dismal pollution results, especially to the smallmouth bass fishery. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Statement
What's Happening around the Watershed?
- Easton, MD: Speak up for oysters! Restoration efforts in the Tred Avon oyster sanctuary are threatened and we need you to speak up for these amazing water-filtering bivalves. The work proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers includes both shallow water work on new sites and seeding on sites already in the project. The project and the public meeting are part of the Corps' future work planned for the Tred Avon oyster sanctuary. Click here for more details!
- Wrightsville, PA: Join CBF, Heroes on the Water, and local Trout Unlimited chapters for a day of fishing, paddling, and fly-fishing lessons on the Susquehanna River as we celebrate our veterans and the value of clean waterways. Veterans, community members, paddlers, fishermen, friends, and family are welcome at Shank’s Mare Outfitters from 1 to 5 p.m., to discover and appreciate the Susquehanna. From 5 to 7 p.m., CBF will host a dinner and open bar with live music for all participants. There is a $5 entrance fee for dinner and drinks. Click here to register!
—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate
Since my early childhood, I have had a passion for marine science and protecting our coastal ecosystems. My interest started with spending lots of time on the beaches, bays, and sounds in California, North Carolina, and Virginia. I enjoy swimming, sailing, and surfing and am concerned about how human activities are impacting our coastal systems.
For the past two years, I have participated in Marine Science summer education programs at the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute on the Outer Banks. When I discovered that currently there is no oyster collection program in the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, I decided to create one. My hope is to create a collection program that will help sustain the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay and educate restaurants on the importance of oyster restoration.
The Chesapeake's native oyster population plays a critical role in the Bay ecosystem. Oysters filter algae and pollution from the Bay waters. In fact, one adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day! But with pollution and overharvesting, the Bay's oyster population has been reduced to more than 90 percent of its historic level.
Through establishing a collection program for oyster shells in Chesapeake-area seafood restaurants, this project will assist in recycling shells to create oyster reefs to repopulate the Bay with healthy oysters. This project will also include an outreach and education program with restaurants and residents to support pollution prevention and sustainability of the Chesapeake's oyster population.
As a member of Girl Scout Troop 643, I rely on a sound foundation of science, community service, and written/verbal communications. Working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and local restaurants requires teamwork and development of partnerships. Through this project, I hope to gain knowledgeable insights in marine science, ecological science, and public engagement as well as valuable leadership skills.
Recently, I went to different restaurants around Chesapeake, asking them to participate in the collection program. I explained the details, including pick-up information and why I am doing the project. I showed the kitchen managers or owners the size and type of bucket we are using, and showed pictures of the oysters and collection centers. I gave them my contact information, brochures, and stickers, and answered any questions they had. I also showed them the list of restaurants that already participate in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Hampton. The restaurants that agreed included The Black Pelican, Surf Rider, Pirates Cove, Red Bones, Butcher's Son, and Kelly's Tavern. I plan to start collecting the oyster buckets from the restaurants very soon!
UPDATE: I have been picking up oyster shells from various restaurants around Chesapeake, including Black Pelican, Surf Rider, Pirates Cove, Red Bones, Butcher's Son, Kelly's Tavern, and Wicker's Crab Pot. I take the buckets to my house, rinse the shells and buckets, and keep them in oyster baskets. Then, I take them to either the Ernie Morgan Environmental Center in Norfolk, Virginia, or the Norfolk Public Library. There, I empty the shells so they can later be taken to Gloucester Point, Virginia, and then back into the Bay!
On July 27, CBF's Virginia Oyster Restoration Specialist Heather North and I presented to Junior Naturalists attending a camp at The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk. We talked to them about the importance of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, such as what they do and how they help the ecosystem. I explained my project to them and we both answered any questions they had. Then, they helped us by unloading baskets, creating oyster baskets, and filled the baskets.
Not hardly. This Chesapeake miracle is absolutely dependent on good water quality. Some years, successive sets die off, handcuffing restoration programs.
But not this year, at least so far. CBF's MD Oyster Restoration Center at Shady Side has been able to produce a record number of spat (i.e. baby oysters) on shell, the universal currency of restoration. "The spring and summer have been extremely kind to us," said Capt. Karl Willey as he deftly maneuvered Patricia Campbell, CBF's 60' oyster planter, around Thunder & Lightning, an oyster reef in the South River that is open to harvest by watermen wielding hand tongs. "The hatchery at the University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory started producing larvae early—in April—and has continued. We've seen strong spat sets in our tanks since then. We've actually gotten ahead of schedule, with 31 million spat set on shell and placed on restoration reefs in the Little Choptank...Now we have July to work small projects with some of our partners. That's why you found Kate [South River Federation Executive Director Kate Fritz] and me counting spat on the dock this morning."
Indeed, as Dan Johannes, Pat Beall, and intern Patrick McCabe loaded spat on shell into the large bins on either side of Patricia Campbell's long foredeck, Karl and Kate carefully examined a random sample of several dozen shells, counting the pinhead-sized spat on each. Eight-to-twenty spat on each shell allowed him and Kate to estimate how many spat the big boat would be planting on this day: 3.2 million.
Loading and counting completed, the crew and several volunteers, including Kate's Board Chair, Kevin Green, climbed aboard for the one-hour run up to South River. We slowed briefly to watch a large pod of dolphins fishing in the river's mouth, then got down to work on a sanctuary reef 11-14' deep off Larrimore Point. As Kate and Kevin watched on the foredeck, Dan started up the hydraulic system that tilts the bins full of spat on shell inward to the conveyor belt that runs down the center of the foredeck. Pat and Patrick began to regulate the flow of 1.4 million spat on their shells into a steady stream on the belt, all moving forward to drop onto a rotating "planter wheel" at the bow that throws them out in a circle 10-12' in diameter. Meanwhile, a GPS antenna mounted beside the wheel sent a continuous signal of our track to the electronic display in front of Karl at the helm, recording the data on a memory card. This technology arms Karl with the data to know everywhere this program has planted since 2003.
We dropped another 0.5 million spat on shell on an 8' sanctuary reef tended by John Flood, an South River Federation Board member emeritus, and 0.3 million on another sanctuary off the mouth of Little Aberdeen Creek. Finally, we moved to Thunder & Lightning, to drop the last 1 million in 10-12' where local watermen partners would be able to harvest them once they grow out in two-to-three years.
Tiny predators like mud crabs that live on the reefs eat spat, but survival from spawn to adult for these guys set in concentration in our tanks is higher than natural sets in the wild," Karl said. "The density at which we plant [5 million spat on shell per acre] produces dense clusters."
At the end of the month, Patricia Campbell and her crew will partner with the Coastal Conservation Association/Maryland to set 72 concrete reef balls with spat and place them onto the MD DNR's Tilghman Island Artificial Reef, in 18-20' of water due west of the island. The reef balls themselves have a special story: they have all been built by high school students in masonry classes, expressly for this purpose.
After three decades of bad news about oysters, imagine being able to get ahead of schedule with good news. Here's hoping we can make it last...
—John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist