Oysters are making a comeback in Herring Bay. Inspired by successful efforts in neighboring waters, the Advocates for Herring Bay (AHB) began restoring the historic Herring Bay Oyster Sanctuary in 2019 with a goal of planting 1 million spat—juvenile oysters—in the sanctuary by the end of 2021.
The project got a big boost Sunday when Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) donated more than 200,000 oyster spat for placement on the bar for ecological preservation.
“CBF has been a great partner since the inception of our restoration effort, helping us identify optimal sites and monitor our results. We’re looking forward to continued collaboration with them.” said AHB President Kathy Gramp.
The AHB project aims to show the benefits of restoring oyster reefs in the sanctuary in an area which is known for its recreational sports fishing and boating.
“Multiple scientific studies have found significant habitat benefits for other species when oyster reefs are built up and allowed to flourish,” noted AHB Project Co-chair Birgit Sharp. “Add in the filtration, carbon sequestration, and shoreline benefits of oyster reefs, and you have the prospect of a big win for the environment and maritime economy of Herring Bay.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation set approximately 200 hundred large mesh bags of oyster shells with oyster larvae at CBF’s Maryland Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side. When the larvae lands and sticks to oyster shell it becomes spat-on-shell—basically baby oysters that after about a year in the water develop their own shells. The spat-on-shell oysters were donated to Advocates for Herring Bay as part of CBF’s work to bolster small-scale oyster restoration projects that involve local community members and partner organizations.
“The reality is oysters remain at historically low population levels in Maryland,” said Patrick Beall, CBF Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist. “To reverse the long-term decline, we’re working to provide spat-on-shell oysters to oyster gardeners and community groups as well as partnering with federal agencies to conduct large-scale oyster plantings in Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Sunday’s oyster planting is another example of those ongoing efforts.”
Charter Boat Captain Frank Carver, who runs Loosen Up Charters in Deale, has seen value in oyster restoration.
“Oyster reefs provide important habitat for young fish, which is important for charter boat captains like me who depend on healthy fisheries for jobs and recreation,” said Carver. “That’s why I'm excited to be part of this effort to restore the oyster population in our local waters.”
Collaboration with community leaders like Carver has been key.
“On the Eastern Shore, restoration is largely being done by the state, but here on the western shore, citizens have taken the matter into their own hands.” said AHB Project Co-chair, Mike Zuralow. “We got advice from folks restoring oyster reefs in the West, South, and Severn rivers, and support from the Chesapeake Beach Oyster Cultivation Society in Calvert County. Once local scientists confirmed the suitability of the location and the Department of Natural Resources approved the site, we got to work planting spat last year.”
Other stakeholders in the Herring Bay watershed share AHB’s interest in expanding restoration efforts in the future.
“Sustainable and protected oyster reefs are a key ingredient in our quest to keep Herring Bay a model of achieving and maintaining clean water on the Chesapeake Bay,” said Steuart and Hamilton Chaney, who own and operate the Herrington Harbour Marinas. “Herring Bay is home to thousands of visiting and resident recreational boaters who value clean water and the natural environment. That’s why we championed the No Discharge Zone designation in Herring Bay and were founding members of the Maryland Clean Marina Program. We thank and support our valued neighbors and CBF for their efforts to restore oyster reefs in Herring Bay."
Oysters are an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Oyster reefs provide habitat to fish, crabs, and other marine life as well as help protect shorelines. The bivalves can also sequester carbon in their shells, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The oysters planted in Herring Bay Sunday will count toward the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance’s goal of adding 10 billion oysters to the Bay by 2025. The alliance is composed of environmental organizations, government agencies, community groups, and oyster farmers that are all working to restore the Bay’s oyster population.