Cobb Is­land group look­ing for good home for baby oys­ters

Vol­un­teers with piers needed to fos­ter spat

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

The Cobb Is­land Ci­ti­zens As­so­ci­a­tion is seek­ing vol­un­teers with piers to help fos­ter baby oys­ters over the win­ter.

Cobb Is­land res­i­dent Bill Barger re­ceived 100 oys­ter cages, which he be­gan dis­tribut­ing Satur­day to pier own­ers through the “Mary­lan­ders Grow Oys­ters” project. The pro­gram is spon­sored by the Mary­land De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

“It’s a way that a per­son can make a di­rect con­tri­bu­tion to clean­ing their lo­cal waters with­out hav­ing to give cash to some or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Barger

said. “An adult oys­ter can clean about 50 gal­lons of wa­ter a day, so it makes a big dif­fer­ence.”

Tim­mie Jensen of the Cobb Is­land Ci­ti­zens As­so­ci­a­tion said they are the only or­ga­ni­za­tion in Charles County par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram.

Once abun­dant through­out the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, the oys­ter pop­u­la­tion has dropped to less than 1 per­cent of its his­toric lev­els, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Much of their de­cline has been due to over-har­vest­ing, as well as in­creased silt and pol­lu­tants lead­ing to a de­cline of wa­ter qual­ity. Re­cently, two par­a­sitic dis­eases — Mult­in­u­cle­ated Sphere X (MSX) and Dermo — have dev­as­tated the re­main­ing oys­ter pop­u­la­tions in the Ch­e­sa­peake and its trib­u­taries, ac­cord­ing to NOAA.

When oys­ters are plen­ti­ful, they help to fil­ter ex­cess nu­tri­ents from wa­ter, plus their shells, built one on top of an­other, help cre­ate reefs that serve as habi­tat for other aquatic wildlife.

Oys­ters gen­er­ally spawn dur­ing the sum­mer months. Young oys­ters start out as male, but af­ter a few years of build­ing up en­ergy re­serves, they spawn as fe­males, re­leas­ing mil­lions of eggs to be fer­til­ized.

The fer­til­ized eggs hatch as lar­vae, which seek a suit­able place, such as an­other oys­ter shell, on which to at­tach them­selves. The at­tached lar­vae are called spats.

The spats are very vul­ner­a­ble to pre­da­tion, Barger said, which is why the cages are needed.

“It pro­tects them from be­ing eaten by crabs,” Barger said. “Be­cause their shells are so thin, crabs can eat them eas­ily. It im­proves their sur­viv­abil­ity be­cause we don’t put them out into the wild un­til they’re a good size with a nice strong shell.”

Fos­ter­ing the oys­ter spats re­quires very lit­tle care, Barger said. The oys­ter cages can be tied to a pier. Ev­ery so of­ten, they should be moved up and down, “like a teabag” in the wa­ter to shake off silt and al­gae build-up.

In June, Barger said, the oys­ter cages will be col­lected or re­turned to him. With the help of a lo­cal water­man, the oys­ters will be planted on the nearby Wi­comico River sanc­tu­ary.

“The sanc­tu­ary is just on the other side of the river [from Cobb Is­land]. We re­fer to it as Bluff Point Sanc­tu­ary, be­cause it’s right near Bluff Point on the St. Mary’s shore, but it’s ac­tu­ally that whole re­gion out to the mid­dle of the river,” Barger said.

Barger said last year, they put out 30,000 young oys­ters.

“The idea is to build a self-sus­tain­ing oys­ter bar that doesn’t get har­vested, that’s self-sus­tain­ing,” Barger said. “Even though the wa­ter­men can’t har­vest the oys­ters from that lo­ca­tion, the off­spring from those oys­ters spread through­out the whole re­gion.”

Barger said dis­tribut­ing the oys­ter cages to many peo­ple helps im­prove chances of sur vi­val.

“It pro­tects them a lit­tle bit, so if some­one has low tide or an oil spill, we don’t lose the en­tire lot,” Barger said.

Cobb Is­land res­i­dent Ge­or­gia Stevens was one of the first to re­ceive her oys­ter cages this fall. Stevens said she has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram since 2009.

“I’ve been an oys­ter fan for as long as I can re­mem­ber, and when the op­por­tu­nity came to pro­vide aid, it doesn’t cost me any­thing, so why not?” Stevens said. “It’s a great way to help pro­mote the growth of oys­ters, and I re­ally do like oys­ters, not only as lit­tle pets, but as din­ner.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, call Bill Barger at 301-6434287 or email barger@ olg.com.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Cobb Is­land res­i­dent Bill Barger pulls up an oys­ter cage tied to his pier. The Cobb Is­land Ci­ti­zens As­so­ci­a­tion is dis­tribut­ing oys­ter cages to pier own­ers as part of the “Mary­lan­ders Grow Oys­ters” pro­gram.

Baby oys­ters, called spat, grow in an old oys­ter shell.

Cobb Is­land res­i­dent Ge­or­gia Stevens low­ers an oys­ter cage tied to her pier into the wa­ter. The Cobb Is­land Ci­ti­zens As­so­ci­a­tion is dis­tribut­ing oys­ter cages to pier own­ers as part of the “Mary­lan­ders Grow Oys­ters” pro­gram.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Cobb Is­land res­i­dent Bill Barger de­liv­ers oys­ter cages to Ge­or­gia Stevens on Fri­day. The Cobb Is­land Ci­ti­zens As­so­ci­a­tion is dis­tribut­ing oys­ter cages to pier own­ers as part of the “Mary­lan­ders Grow Oys­ters” pro­gram.

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