Oyster planting underway in Chesapeake Bay

ANNAPOLIS — Now that the weather for it is better, there’s a major oyster reseeding effort in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Bryan Kent Gomes at the nonprofit Oyster Recovery Partnership says the mission is to increase the number of oysters in the Bay.

In the last two decades, they’ve planted almost 6 billion in sanctuaries, managed reserves and public fishing grounds.

He says another big part of the effort is to work with restaurants and businesses to recycle oyster shells back into the Bay, since they are the best material to restore the reefs.

Gomes, the partnership’s manager of special programs, says every half-shell collected creates a new home for approximately 10 baby oysters.

“The shell is a very limited natural resource, so it’s important that it is saved and not thrown in the trash,” he says. “Not to mention it can save restaurant owner a lot of money when they move it from the trash can to the recycle bin, and get it back to our organization.”

Since its launch, a program known as the Shell Recovery Alliance has recycled almost 3,000 tons of oyster shells. In addition to restaurants and businesses, used shells are collected from public drop sites.

Gomes explains the restaurants and shucking facilities that participate in the recycling program get a tax break, and save money on labor and trash fees.

“Today, six years later, it’s grown to over 200 restaurants in northern Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Delaware,” he says. “And guys full-time hitting these major metropolitan areas through the region are bringing back about 120 bushels each time they hit a couple dozen restaurants in a day.”

The oyster is a filter feeder. It sucks in water, filters out the plankton and debris, then spits the water back out, which cleans the water around it. One oyster can filter more than 50 gallons in 24 hours.

However, Gomes says a combination of disease, pollution and over-fishing means today, less than one-percent of the original 17th-century oyster population remains in the Bay.

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