On Jan. 19, with logistical help from the nonprofit Oyster Recovery Partnership, the conservancy took delivery of the first batch of oysters from three aquaculture companies and two individual shellfish growers and placed them in an oyster sanctuary in Prospect Bay, in the northern end of Eastern Bay. The group consulted with the Maryland DNR on sanctuary locations where as many as 500,000 purchased oysters in all could be planted, Bryer said.
Weather permitting, the group also plans over the next month to buy from Southern Maryland growers for planting in a sanctuary in the nearby St. Mary’s River, followed by a similar purchase from lower Eastern Shore growers for placement in a sanctuary in the Nanticoke River.
Growers were offered a price about 20% below what they got in 2019, before the pandemic hit, Bryer said.
“We know this program isn’t going to solve all their problems,” Bryer explained. But he said that the groups see this as a first step and hope to continue and expand their efforts to help aquaculture.
Tull figured in late December that he’d have as many as 50,000 oysters ready to sell by now. He said he’d been told that, depending on the weather and other factors, the conservancy could buy that many, though maybe as few as 10,000.
“It will definitely be a big help,” he said, “and it will get the cash flow going so I’ll have cash to buy seed.”
Despite all the difficulties, Tull said he still believes aquaculture holds promise.
“If we can get through the next six months, or even four months, if that’s possible,” he said, “I think things will start straightening out.”
A new hatchery is born
Others hope so, too. Ferry Cove Shellfish, a new nonprofit commercial oyster hatchery, is under construction near Sherwood, in Talbot County. The 20,000 square-foot facility is underwritten by the Annapolis based Ratcliffe Foundation.
It is being equipped to filter and heat the water it draws from the Bay, which will allow oyster larvae production to be extended beyond the traditional Aprilto-september season, explained Stephan Abel, president and CEO of Ferry Cove.
The facility will produce its own algae to feed the newly hatched oyster larvae to be spawned in a complex of 35 tanks. And it will include back-up systems to ensure operations during tropical storms, periods of low salinity and other episodes of poor water quality that can upset hatchery operations that draw water from the Bay.
“You want to support the industry, you can’t have down times,” Abel said.
The facility is designed to mimic traditional Shore architecture and is placed on a 70-acre tract that will include native wildflowers, wetlands and a living shoreline.
“The focus is to demonstrate how you can have a green business,” Abel said, “and also do good for the environment at the same time.”
By May, Ferry Cove Shellfish hopes to be ready to begin producing as many as 1 billion seed oysters a year for sale to oyster growers throughout the Bay. Abel said he’s confident the slump the seafood industry is in now is only temporary.
“I think there’s going to be huge demand now and in the future,” he said, “in spite of the issues with COVID.”
Jeremy Cox is a Bay Journal staff writer who can be reached at email@example.com. Tim Wheeler is the Bay Journal’s associate editor and senior writer who can be reached at 410-409-3469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the Bay Journal and was distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.