Oyster Recovery Effort Explained

SALISBURY – An educational presentation on the importance of rehabilitating the oyster habitat in surrounding bay waters was given this week as well as an update on Wicomico County’s recent partnership with Oyster Recovery Partnership and its Shell Recycling Alliance.
On Tuesday, Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) Special Programs Manager Bryan Gomes explained to the County Council and public the importance of the ORP program and how businesses and the public alike can help.
Gomes explained oysters are critical for the ecologic health of the Chesapeake Bay. Known as a “keystone species,” oysters not only filter the bay’s waters, but their reefs also provide habitat for other important marine life. A single mature oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water every day.
Their psudeofeces, which is the output result of the way that oysters get rid of suspended particles that have been rejected as unsuitable for food, are then consumed by other organisms on the oyster reef and their shells create habitat for other marine life to attach, spawn, and grow.
“In 1608 Captain John Smith came up the bay and there were so many oysters in the bay they were a navigational hazard … the bays population could be filtered by the oysters in just a few days. Today’s population it takes about a year to do that same job,” Gomes said.
According to ORP, following the Civil War, oysters became a valuable commodity as they provided a cheap source of protein. Many Mid-Atlantic communities built their livelihoods around oysters. By the 1880s, the Bay’s oyster output exceeded the rest of the world combined.
A hundred years ago, oyster harvests exceeded 10 million bushels a year, but oyster-specific diseases, historic over-fishing, and the onslaught of silt and sediment, run-off and degraded water quality have overwhelmed the remaining oyster reefs, leaving the wild fishery harvest rates at just a fraction of what they once were. The Bay has lost more than 99 percent of its native oysters and continues to lose an estimated 2,600 acres of oyster habitat annually.
The ORP was established about 20 years ago and is Maryland’s leading 501(c)(3) non-profit that actively promotes, supports and restores oysters in the Chesapeake Bay for both ecologic and economic purposes. Based in Annapolis, ORP engages in numerous Bay-related projects by conducting science-based “in-the-water” and “on-the-land” recovery efforts, while conducting public outreach and education in their quest to protect the environment, preserve heritage and share knowledge of the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past decade, the Partnership has planted more than 4 billion oysters back into the Bay on more than 1,500 acres of oyster reefs and recycled an estimated 1,200 tons of shell.
In addition to its large-scale oyster restoration activities, ORP operates the widely-popular Shell Recycling Alliance, supports the Marylanders Grow Oysters program and provides aquaculture and wild fishery support services.
Hundreds of restaurants, caterers and seafood wholesalers through Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania help restore the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster habitat by recycling their used shells. A long list of participating restaurants located as close as Dewey and Rehoboth in Delaware, Cambridge and Ocean City in Maryland, and now the newest partnering restaurant is Brew River in Salisbury.
Besides partnering businesses the public can do their part by recycling oyster shells by dropping them off at participating shell drop off stations. Businesses and individuals are now eligible for receiving a tax credit in Maryland for recycling shells due to a new oyster shell recycling tax credit.
A couple of months ago Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt announced a partnership with ORP to use county transfer stations as public collection sites for the recycling of used oyster shells.  The partnership started on July 1, and now residents and restaurants are able to receive a $1 tax credit per bushel of recycled oyster shell, up to $750 a year.
The initial six Wicomico locations will have shell containers near the other recycling bins that will be clearly marked for shell drop off. Once individuals or restaurants drop off their shell, they can register their donation online.
ORP will collect the shells and transport it to Cambridge, MD, where the shell will be aged and processed before being returned to the Chesapeake Bay with baby oysters attached.
“Currently we have collected about a bushel and half of shells. The program has been in place about two months, and we are anticipating the winter months are going to be a big push,” Wicomico County Public Works Director Lee Beauchamp said this week. “Brew River has signed on to be a partner and we are looking for other restaurants all the time.”
For more information on ORP, including a list of shell drop off stations and information regarding associated tax credit, visit the organizations website, www.oysterrecovery.org.