Marylanders Agree: Hands off Our Oyster Sanctuaries

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:Oyster Poll Results Graphic-1200

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

Take action right now to urge Maryland legislators to protect oyster sanctuaries and the value they provide to clean water and countless marine species.


The View of an Oyster Sanctuary

The following first appeared in the Chestertown Spy.

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Maryland's oyster sanctuaries are under threat. Photo by Dave Harp.

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

Stand up for oysters now! Ask your legislators to support a new bill that would stop changes to oyster sanctuaries from happening before there is sound science to back them up.


The Smell of Saving the Bay

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Hundreds of baskets full of adult oysters and spat-on-shell were planted in the South River last week.

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. 

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Volunteer Bill Wheeler cuts open a bag of spat-on-shell.

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

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CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist Pat Beall unloads bags of spat-on-shell from the "Spatmobile." 
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Baskets of adult oysters and spat-on-shell await departure for their new homes in the South River.
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Chesapeake Conservation Corps Intern Jaclyn Fisher delivers a basket of adult oysters and spat-on-shell to their new home in the South River.

 Click here for more photos from this oyster planting in the South River!


Bill's Tried-and-True Thanksgiving Recipe

OysterStuffing_600x386For 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.  

Click here to celebrate Bill and get his tried-and-true oyster stuffing recipe. 

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 —Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


This Week in the Watershed

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Maryland's oysters and Susquehanna's smallmouth bass are two critters desperately needing our attention. Photos by CBF Staff and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

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?

August 9

  • 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!

August 27

  • 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


Lea's Clean Water Story

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Girl Scout Lea Bonner with CBF's Heather North.

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.

2Through 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!

—Lea Bonner

What does the Bay and its rivers and streams mean to you? Share your clean water story here!

Image1UPDATE: 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.

On August 6, I did a presentation at CBF's Brock Environmental Center. After creating oyster nets, Heather North and I did a presentation on saving oyster shells, my project, and oyster gardening.

 

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Good News about Oysters

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3.2 million spat on shell were planted in the South River this July. Photo by Erika Nortemann.

Persuading microscopic oyster larvae to "set" on old shells is as simple as placing plenty of both into a large round tank of circulating Bay water and leaving them together for several days. Right?

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.

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CBF's oyster planting boat, the Patricia Campbell. Photo by Erika Nortemann.

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


The Best Part

A Day Seeding Four Million Oysters into the Little Choptank River

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Crossing the Bay to plant four million oysters (weighing almost 30 tons) in the Little Choptank River!

"There's just something about being on the water . . . you're in a different world." Native Marylander and CBF oyster restoration volunteer Jim Ridgell is standing on the bow of the Patricia Campbell, our oyster restoration vessel, when he says this, staring out at the flat, endless Bay stretched out before us. We're on our way back in after spending the first sunny day in a string of wet weather planting oysters in the Little Choptank River off the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

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Jim Ridgell, a native Marylander who week after week for the past 10 years has been coming out to our Oyster Restoration Center to volunteer with us.

As a CBF oyster volunteer for close to 10 years, this is hardly Ridgell's first trip. In fact, for roughly a decade now, Ridgell has been coming out to our Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland, to clean shell, load up oysters, or whatever else needs doing. "It's not about the oysters so much," says Ridgell. "It's about helping the Bay—something that's given me so much in my life. It's about giving back to something you love."

And give back he does. On this trip alone, we planted four million oysters (or 27 tons!) onto a 1.9-acre reef we're helping to build with partners as part of a network of reefs in the Little Choptank Sanctuary. By summer's end, we hope to plant roughly 25 million baby oysters across the

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Oysters are moved on a conveyer belt to the bow of the boat where they are spread across the water below.

sanctuary, which will mean incredible things for the Bay. In addition to providing critical habitat for critters like fish and crabs, oyster reefs do much for water quality, with one adult oyster able to filter and clean up to 50 gallons of water a day

Restoring the Bay is intrinsically tied to restoring its native oyster population, and so in 1997, CBF started its oyster restoration program. "The realization by the 1990s that oysters were so critical to the Bay ecosystem and that their numbers were down 99 percent inspired the effort," says CBF's Director of Fisheries and founder of its oyster restoration program Bill Goldsborough. As oyster restoration in the Bay started to take shape in the ’90s, different conservation groups and agencies assumed different roles with CBF focusing on public outreach and engagement through oyster gardening, education, and other programs. "Involving citizens in the work is essential. You're forging a constituency for restoration," says Goldsborough.    

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At the end of the conveyer belt, the oysters go through a spreader that evenly distributes them across the water.

Later, in 2002, the addition of the 60-foot Patricia Campbell vessel "changed our game completely," says Karl Willey, manager of CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Program. With her unique way of planting millions of oysters in less than an hour via a conveyer belt, which connects to a spreader at the bow of the boat that evenly distributes the oysters across a reef, the Patricia Campbell is "one of a kind," says Willey. "There's no other boat quite like it." Now with 250 volunteer oyster gardeners and the Patricia Campbell, we're planting between 26 and 30 million oysters in Maryland waters a year.

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"Patricia Campbell" Captain and Maryland Oyster Restoration Manager Karl Willey at the end of a satisfying day on the water.

There are no words between us as we motor back in at day's end. Silently soaking up the rare appearance of the sun and lulled into a satisfied tired with muddied hands by our side and the comforting hum of the Patricia Campbell's diesel engines. Four million oysters in the water has a way of making you feel utterly and completely gratified. But then again, there's just something about being on the water.

—Text and Photos by Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 

Click here to learn more and to watch a video of the Little Choptank oyster planting.

And sign up to become an oyster volunteer like Jim Ridgell!

 


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Summertime Fishing

Locklear Story 0416 II Sam Loustanua"How will I know when a fish bites?" "Young Sam" asked his grandfather, Sam Locklear. Both Sams and younger brother, Nate, were fishing the Severn River with me last summer. It's always a treat to have enthusiastic ten- and seven-year-old anglers aboard, especially when a trip starts like this one. The words were hardly out in the air before two chunky white perch climbed onto the teasers on Young Sam's line, nearly taking the rod out of his hands. 

We were fishing a 12-14-foot-deep restoration oyster reef near the U.S. Naval Academy. This particular reef, an underwater point jutting out into the channel, is an example of where oysters thrive. The reef is elevated in the water column where currents bring the oysters food, carry away waste, and attract other critters—like worms, barnacles, grass shrimp, and mud crabs—that in turn attract predators like white perch and rockfish. We could see the perch on my skiff's fishfinder. The Severn has more successful restoration reefs like this one—they form the happy side of this story. 

The other side isn't as pretty. With supper on ice, the Sams, Nate, and I went upriver to a 25-foot-deep reef that showed hard bottom but no fish. It's a survey site for an upcoming restoration project, so we got out an electronic temperature/salinity/oxygen meter and lowered its sensor's ten-meter cable to get a profile of the water column. As usual for summer here—and in too many other parts of the Chesapeake system—the dissolved oxygen measured below two milligrams per liter from the bottom up to about 15 feet. That's a lethal level for perch and rockfish and stressful even for crabs. In fact, on the bottom that day, the level was below 0.5 mg/l—low enough to kill worms. No wonder the fishfinder screen was blank below 15 feet. That's what a "dead zone" looks like. This is the ugly side of the story. It illustrates why we concentrate oyster restoration in shallower water. 

As Memorial Day approaches, we've got dead zones on our minds. But why do dead zones form each summer? From human-caused nitrogen pollution. Take a look at this excellent graphic from YSI, Inc. (the maker of my oxygen meter). It concentrates on the Gulf of Mexico, but the global map shows hypoxia ("the environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water column decreases to a level that can no longer support living aquatic organisms") all over the Earth, including the Chesapeake.

What can we do about it? We have a plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, and it's slowly turning the bad stuff around while we celebrate successes like these new oyster reefs. Want to make sure that Young Sam, Nate, and thousands of other youngsters have a healthy Bay to grow up around? Click here to find out how you can help.

John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist

 


Going Above and Beyond for Oysters

OFred Millhiser didn't expect to spend retirement hauling oyster shell. However, for the past four years, the former government employee has done just that. A CBF member for many years, upon retirement, Millhiser decided to get more involved. After attending a workshop at CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Center (MORC), he soon began growing juvenile oysters from his home dock.

A few years later, Millhiser became aware of a shortage of oyster shell. Oyster shell is vital to restoration efforts as it provides baby oysters the material needed to settle and begin the maturation process. While making his weekly drive between his home in St. Mary's County and Annapolis, Millhiser noticed Stoney Kingfisher, a popular seafood restaurant. "[They] sell lots of oysters during oyster season, including a Sunday all-you-can-eat oyster menu, so I knew there 20160403_103905were lots of shells," he said.

Millhiser approached the management and soon the restaurant was outfitted with a collection cage and the staff was trained to separate shells for recycling. Millhiser personally offered to pick up the shells from Stoney's and deliver them to MORC. "I have been delivering about 2-3 bushels of shells per week during oyster season since then," he said. 

Thanks to Millhiser, nearly 250 bushels of oyster shell have been diverted from landfills and used in CBF's oyster restoration projects in Maryland and Virginia. "It has been most satisfying to help in a small way with what I think is one of the most important steps to a healthy Chesapeake Bay, namely restoration of native oysters," said Millhiser. 

You never know when a CBF volunteer, such as Fred Millhiser, will be inspired to go above and beyond to make a difference! 

—Melanie McCarty
CBF's Donor Communications Manager

Right now through April 30, The Orvis Company will match any donation made to CBF's oyster restoration dollar for dollar, up to $30,000! Give today and help Save the Bay!