On October 5th, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finished construction of an artificial oyster reef alongside the Bill Burton Fishing Pier adjacent to the Fredrick C. Malkus Bridge. Funding for the reef was provided by NOAA through its partnership with Restore America’s Estuaries.
The reef was created by placing concrete “reef balls” on the bottom of the Choptank River. The two foot-tall igloo-like reef balls were built by volunteers at CBF’s Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland (ORC) or by volunteers from the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association (MSSA).
The reef balls were “set” with baby oysters (“spat”) by submerging them in large tanks of Bay water at ORC and adding millions of oyster larvae spawned at the University of Maryland hatchery at the Horn Point Laboratory near Cambridge.
Patricia Campbell, CBF’s specially designed oyster restoration boat, deployed the reef balls throughout the summer, and placed the remaining 60 in the river Saturday as the public looked on from the pier. Following the reef ball placement, the crew of Patricia Campbell overplanted them with one million “spat-on-shell” oysters produced at ORC.
The reef balls act as an artificial structure upon which oysters, mussels, barnacles and other benthic organisms can attach. Oyster shells are the normal substrate to which these species attach, but shells are in short supply.
The three-dimensional artificial reef also serves a habitat for fish like striped bass, sea bass and croaker and for crustaceans like blue crabs, mud crabs and grass shrimp.
“This should help the fishing community experience good fishing, particularly with oyster spat. It’s available to the public. You don’t need a boat to fish it,” said Clint Waters, President of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishing Association, Dorchester Chapter.
The Bill Burton reef will be one of the most accessible oyster and fish reefs on the Eastern Shore. That was evident today as fishermen cast their lines from the pier onto the reef.
With the help of MSSA volunteers, DNR and MARI are tracking the number of fish caught in the area both before and after the reef’s construction to document the reef’s benefits as fish habitat.
The dedication celebration from 1 pm to 5 pm on the pier included fishing demonstrations, opportunities for the public to add oysters to the reef, guess-the-number-of-oyster-spat sponsored by the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, and hotdogs by Easton Ruritan.
source: joint press release; Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative