Cobb Island group looking for good home for baby oysters
Volunteers with piers needed to foster spat
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.
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.
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.