Spend the Winter Growing Oysters to Help Clean the Bay
Did you know that an adult oyster can filter a much as 50 gallons of Bay water in a day? They can, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. And, if you have a pier or your community has a pier, you might be able to help clean water in the Chesapeake Bay by growing oysters over the winter.
To help those oysters get a head-start in life, the Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program enlists waterfront homeowners to host a basket of growing oyster spat off their pier for a couple of months (fall to spring).
The MGO program got started in 1998 when Gov. Martin O’Malley announced the partnership of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Oyster Recovery Partnership and Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correction.
Prisoners on the Eastern Shore manufacture the metal cages that the oysters grow in. The young oysters (spat) are delivered on a single day in the fall from their nursery location in the Tred Avon river on the Eastern Shore. It is a tricky operation because the spat can’t be out of the water too long or they will die. Once the young oysters are in Anne Arundel County, riverkeepers like the South Riverkeeper and the West/Rhode Riverkeeper help to distribute the spat to homeowners who have volunteered.
Once the baskets, which weigh abut 20 pounds, are hung from the dock, homeowners have a few details to oversee. First, homeowners should try to make sure that the spat doesn’t freeze. Homeowners should also make sure that the oyster spat isn’t fouled in the water. To do that, they will have to rinse the baskets by dunking them in and out of the water (in a manner similar to dunking a teabag in water) every couple of weeks.
If you volunteer, they will give you complete instructions.
After about nine months, the oysters are transferred to oyster sanctuaries in the river. At these locations, the oysters work at filtering and cleaning the water.
Just a few decades ago, oysters in the bay could filter all of the bay in about a week. Diseases have resulted in lower populations, so today it takes Chesapeake Bay oysters about a year to do the same volume of work.