Maryland Produces 750 Million Oyster Spat in 2009 for Chesapeake Bay Restoration

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On October 8, 2009 Governor Martin O’Malley announced that Maryland has returned nearly 750 million hatchery-reared oysters to the Bay this year, marking a new record in the State’s Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration efforts. The Governor also announced the State’s achievement of a new landmark in its citizen-oyster growing program, crediting the State’s strong public-private partnerships with the successes.

“Through their close collaboration, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the Oyster Recovery Partnership are changing the face of oyster restoration in Maryland,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “At a time when we are escalating all of our efforts to restore the Bay, this record planting – along with record involvement by citizen stewards in oyster restoration — gives us tremendous confidence for increasing the Bay’s oyster population.”

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Horn Point Laboratory and the non-profit Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) produced nearly 750 million oyster spat for Chesapeake Bay restoration in 2009, the most ever grown in one year at the laboratory’s Eastern Shore facility.   Record production levels and an expanded partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have fueled the growth of the State’s oyster restoration programs, resulting in the revitalization of nearly 350 acres of oyster reefs, planted on 26 sites across the Bay and its rivers. The 2009 growing season eclipsed the previous record of nearly 600 million oyster spat set in 2008.

“Since the hatchery expanded in 2004, we have been able to improve the efficiency of our spat production by taking advantage of new technologies and a better understanding of oyster husbandry practices that have benefited from the sound science approach employed in our hatchery program,” said Dr. Donald “Mutt” Meritt, who oversees the Horn Point hatchery for UMCES. “This year, the combination of better Choptank River water quality along with our experienced and dedicated hatchery, field and planting teams, allowed us to bring large-scale restoration to a new level.”

In other exciting news, Marylanders Grow Oysters – a citizen stewardship program that complements Maryland’s large-scale oyster restoration efforts, also expanded this year.  Waterfront property owners are now growing oyster spat in more than 5,000 cages in 12 Bay tributaries this fall. The program, which was launched by Governor O’Malley last year in the Tred Avon River, uses cages built by Maryland inmates.  Next summer the 1-year old oysters will be planted in local sanctuaries.

Oyster reefs are critical to the Bay’s recovery. A healthy oyster reef not only filters the Bay’s dirty waters, but also provides crucial substrate for an underwater community that furnishes valuable life support for fish and crabs.

“Whether it’s 1,000 oysters or hundreds of millions of oysters planted back into our Bay, the oyster’s ability to help revitalize the Bay’s health and preserve our cultural heritage cannot be overemphasized,” said Stephan Abel, Executive Director for the Oyster Recovery Partnership.  “Through the steady leadership provided by Governor Martin O’Malley, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin — as well as the growing environmental stewardship of Marylanders — we are witnessing historically significant growth in our capacity to improve Chesapeake Bay waters.”

The oyster restoration process is complex. Adult oysters collected by Maryland watermen as part of the restoration program are spawned at the UMCES Horn Point Laboratory oyster hatchery. The oyster larvae produced by these spawns are fed cultured algae and allowed to develop under controlled conditions until they are ready to set – the process whereby oyster larvae permanently attach themselves to shell.  The larvae are placed into specially constructed tanks at Horn Point that have been filled by ORP with aged, cleaned oyster shells.

The resulting shells with the newly created oyster spat (spat on shell) are loaded onto vessels for deployment and then planted on pretreated restoration sites throughout the Bay by the Oyster Recovery Partnership, and monitored by the University of Maryland and DNR for growth and health.

Restoration sites are selected by DNR through a consensus-based coalition that includes ORP, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), UMCES, the Maryland Waterman’s Association and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Major financial support for these efforts comes from NOAA, DNR, UMCES and ORP.

“Recent investments by the state have set the stage for UMCES to more than double hatchery production over the next few years,” said UMCES President Dr. Donald F. Boesch. “Once construction of the new oyster setting facility is completed next year, we hope to be able to produce up to two billion oyster spat a year.”

The Cambridge-based oyster hatchery will be open for tours on October 10 as part of the Horn Point Laboratory’s annual Open House. For more information about the event, please visit

source: DNR press release

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