Oyster restoration continues with funding uncertainty
MADISON — As the Chesapeake Bay Foundation continues its oyster restoration efforts along tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, organization officials are unsure what the future holds. On Thursday, May 18, the Patricia Campbell spent the day on the Little Choptank River placing oyster shell with new spat provided by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Center in Cambridge.
More than 4.2 million spat were on board the boat that would be placed in an oyster sanctuary along the bottom of the Little Choptank River near Madison in Dorchester County. The sanctuary is one of 51 in Maryland, and one of five designated to place oyster spat in to help revive the ecosystem and oyster population.
Currently, Harris Creek and the Tred Avon River are the other two working sanctuaries with two more left to be designated. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is part of the Oyster Recovery Partnership run be the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The partnership has planted 3.2 billion spat over 563 acres for about $47.6 million.
Harris Creek had 2.23 billion oyster spat planted on 350 acres. The Little Choptank has 814 million planted on 178 acres with between 100 and 200 acres left to plant. About 153 million oyster spat have been planted on 35 acres in the Tred Avon with about 60 acres remaining to do.
“In early April, the Trump Administration signaled that they want to spend a lot less money on this kind of stuff,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Assistant Media Director Tom Zolper. “In a few weeks, the Trump Administration will be giving the details about funding. We should learn then how much less we could get. We are very concerned about the potential loss of federal funding that has been the bedrock of bringing the oysters back.
“For six years, we have had all this success, and all this excitement about Harris Creek, about Little Choptank River, about the Tred Avon River,” he said. “Scientists believe these are the nurseries that will help us bring back our oyster populations while improving the quality of the Chesapeake Bay. But now, someone wants to pull the plug on this whole success story.”
Oyster Recovery Partnership plans to finish the three current planting sites in the next few years with the remaining two sites to be completed by 2020.
“We have already seen the benefits because the new shells with the oysters spats help grow the eco-system for more than just oysters,” said Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers. “The growing creates a reef structure, which supports up to 300 different species of marine creatures. The result means a healthier Chesapeake Bay, and more growth outside the sanctuaries, which means better oyster and crab harvests.
“The target for the sanctuaries is 50 oysters per square meter,” Myers said. “Harris Creek, where we started this process, we are now at that density and are seeing the benefits. Horn Point has been a huge partner because they are placing the spats on the oyster shells before we can place them in the water. Our hope is we get the Bay to the point where there is enough natural reproduction where we won’t need to continue rebuilding reefs with oyster shells and spats.”
Zolper said funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been decreasing even before the Trump Administration.
“The pot of money was being directed to other places as other areas caught on to our success and try to do the same thing we do in their places,” he said. “We lost out in the grant race to North Carolina.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation staffers aboard the Patricia Campbell place oyster shells in the Little Choptank River near Madison in Dorchester County Thursday, May 18.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation aboard the Patricia Campbell ready to place oyster shells in the Little Choptank River near Madison in Dorchester County Thursday, May 18.