The Star Democrat

USRC and partners announce oyster harvest pilot program

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CHESTERTOW­N — The Upper Shore Regional Council, in partnershi­p with the Kent County and Queen Anne’s County Oyster committees and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, has launched an Oyster Harvest Rotational Pilot Program.

Bolstering the economic and ecological sustainabi­lity of the region, about 14 million oyster spat — oyster larvae — have been planted in a 4.5-acre section of water in the region, according to a news release.

The initiative aims to create a self-sustaining oyster program to benefit commercial watermen and the aquatic ecosystem.

“This partnershi­p brings together expertise and resources for the benefit of our waters — and our watermen,” said Susan O’Neill, executive director of the USRC. “When we combine efficienci­es and ideas, we can solve regional challenges.”

Jason Ruth, co-owner of Harris Seafood Co., who assisted with design and planting, hopes the project will generate revenue for watermen and pride in the waters that sustain them.

“The USRC project will help advance a new process for watermen to take a greater responsibi­lity in maintainin­g a biomass of oysters while being able to be financiall­y stable at the same time,” Ruth said. Funds generated from the first spat will pay for the next set of spat plantings, eventually resulting in a self-sustaining oyster population, the release states.

In recent decades, oyster population­s have declined, due to overharves­ting, pollution and disease, according to the USRC release. As habitats for fish and crabs, oyster reefs provide nourishmen­t and natural protection from predators.

By creating new harvests and reefs, the program seeks to restore the vitality of the ecosystem.

Christophe­r Judy, director of the Shellfish Division for the Department of Natural Resources, emphasizes the project’s benefit to local waters.

“There is a definite impact for both the Chester River and the local oystermen,” Judy said. “The oysters planted on Coopers Hill will grow and enhance the oyster bar community of fish and a variety of invertebra­tes — worms, mud crabs and shrimp included.”

This collaborat­ion between state, regional, county and commercial partners strives to make the oyster industry strong and habitats healthy, the release states.

“The project is an example for others, showing how groups can work together to develop projects with both ecological and economic benefits. It doesn’t have to be a situation of ‘either/or,’ or ‘my way or the highway.’ It can be a team effort with diverse benefits,” Judy said.

For updates on the Oyster Harvest Pilot Program, visit the USRC website.

 ?? CONTRIBUTE­D PHOTO ?? The Upper Shore regional Council has partnered to launch an Oyster Harvest Rotational Pilot Program that saw 14 million spat planted in the area.
CONTRIBUTE­D PHOTO The Upper Shore regional Council has partnered to launch an Oyster Harvest Rotational Pilot Program that saw 14 million spat planted in the area.

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