Friday, October 5, 2012

Maryland's 2012 Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Results Revealed

BALTIMORE - The Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), the University of Maryland Horn Point Lab Hatchery (UMD HPL), along with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, Thursday announced the results of their 2012 Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration efforts and the first plantings aimed at fulfilling the goals set by federal agencies to restore oyster habitat and populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025 in response to President Obama's Executive Order. During the 2012 season, this coalition of partners deployed 634 million spat on shell in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay, with most of those deployed into the Harris Creek oyster sanctuary. Nearly one third of the 360 acre goal in Harris Creek has been planted with enhanced substrate and spat on shell. In addition, portions of the Upper Bay were restocked with oysters after last year's wide-scale mortality from excessive fresh water.

"ORP is thrilled to play a role in the largest oyster restoration effort our Bay has ever seen," said Stephan Abel, Executive Director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership. "We know that our coalition of partners is successful at building oyster reefs, now we are just refining the formula to do more with less. Likewise, Horn Point Lab's record-setting year is a testament to their tireless determination to streamline our large-scale efforts to better the health of the Chesapeake Bay. "

ORP also recruited 70 new participating restaurants to the Shell Recycling Alliance effort and collected nearly 15,000 bushels of shell (a 50% increase in collections over 2011) that will be recycled to provide future substrate on which new oysters will attach; and the UMD HPL produced a record number of oyster spat - 880 million. This is the fifth year in a row that Horn Point Lab Hatchery production exceeded half a billion spat on shell.

"Our record production is a direct result of the dedication and commitment of both the hatchery team and the Oyster Recovery Partnership field crew," said Hatchery Program Director Don "Mutt" Meritt. "This combined with the state-of-the-art facilities located at the Horn Point Laboratory and the beneficial water quality during the production season each contributed to a bumper crop this year."

As part of a Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, the Army Corps of Engineers Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan, and President Obama's Executive Order 13508, Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River, is the first river targeted for large-scale, tributary-based oyster restoration. This area was chosen collaboratively by Maryland DNR, Army Corps Baltimore District and NOAA because of its high likelihood to succeed. The goal is to restore 360 acres in Harris Creek. Funds for these restoration activities are provided primarily by Maryland DNR, the Army Corps and NOAA.

"To support oyster restoration efforts, despite our difficult economic times the State has committed $7.5 million for the construction of oyster reefs in Harris Creek sanctuary," said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. "These reefs will be ready for oyster planting in 2013, and the proceeds generated by events such as the Mermaids Kiss will result in the planting of millions of additional oysters that will help attain the President's executive order goals."

Additionally, the first agreed-upon definition of a "restored oyster reef" has been adopted by the Chesapeake Bay Program Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team based on recommendations from the Oyster Metrics Team, a Bay-wide group of scientists and fishery managers. Specifically, six years post-restoration activity, reefs should have a minimum of 15 oysters and 15 grams of biomass per square meter covering at least 30% of the reef, with at least two year classes of oysters on each reef.

"Great progress has been made in 2012 in pouring the foundation for a healthier Chesapeake Bay ecosystem through oyster restoration. Oysters are a critical part of NOAA's blueprint for healthy habitat," said Buck Sutter, director of NOAA's Office of Habitat Conservation. "The unique team of federal and state agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations is illustrating how much can be achieved working together toward a common objective."

Maryland's oyster partners have developed and implemented a large-scale oyster restoration program over the last decade that has resulted in nearly 4 billion disease-free, native oyster spat on shell produced and planted on 1,500 acres in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay.

"The importance of our partners efforts cannot be underestimated," said Abel. "Each partner is necessary to achieve our Bay restoration goals."

During the 2011 oyster restoration season, 510 million disease-free, native oyster spat on shell were produced and planted on over 315 acres in 6 tributaries around the Chesapeake Bay. Additionally in the 2011 season, ORP's Shell Recycling Alliance added 49 new participating restaurants and collected nearly 10,000 bushels of shell. In 2010, this same effort collected approximately 6,000 bushels of shell -- bringing the total collection to around 30,000 bushels since inception.

In addition to its large-scale oyster restoration activities, the Oyster Recovery Partnership operates the Shell Recycling Alliance, which has led the recycling effort of nearly 30,000 bushels of oyster shell since its inception in 2010, supports the Marylanders Grow Oysters program and provides aquaculture and wild fishery support services.

Over the last century, the Chesapeake Bay has seen a dramatic decline of its native oyster population. A healthy oyster reef not only filters the Bay's dirty waters, but also provides crucial habitat for an underwater community that furnishes valuable life support for blue crabs and fish. An adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water per day. The entire Bay used to be filtered in just days, but now it takes more than a year.

# # #

About the Oyster Recovery Partnership
Restoring Our Oyster. Cleaning Our Bay. Preserving Our Future. Nearly 20 years ago, the Oyster Recovery Partnership was commissioned as a cooperative coalition of multiple partners that contribute toward a large-scale restoration program that plants disease-free oysters back into the Chesapeake Bay. As a result of this successful Partnership, nearly 4 billion oysters have been planted on 1,500 acres of oyster reefs and more than 15,000 bushels of shell have been recycled to provide homes for new oysters. As Maryland's leading nonprofit restoring oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, the Oyster Recovery Partnership also operates the region's Shell Recycling Alliance, supports the State's Marylanders Grow Oysters program and provides shellfish aquaculture and fishery support services.