In the later years of the 1800s, the oyster harvest on the Chesapeake Bay had already made the Bay a famous place—worldwide. Oysters were caught and packed here at a record rate. Hundreds of skipjacks could be seen plying the waters. There were so many watermen catching an abundance of these shellfish. Jump forward one hundred years later and you see the oyster population has dramatically declined. With over-fishing and the threat of diseases, the oyster population in the Bay is less than 1% of what it was. In an attempt to combat this major decline, many dedicated scientists, ecologists, and organizations like that of the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) are doing their part to help restore these oyster reefs.
One of the most important activities and the main foundation of ORP’s efforts in reef restoration is the recycling of shells. You see, an oyster shell is the best, most natural material to rebuild oyster reefs and foster the growth of these shellfish. Luckily, for the Chesapeake Bay, there are plenty of restaurants in and around Annapolis that take part in serving up their own signature variations of this delicious delicacy and then team up with the ORP to do their part.
When dining out, look for this sign and know that after you finish the meal, the restaurant you just ate at will give the shells back to the ORP who will then clean, treat, and put the shells back into the waters of the Bay. More than 350 restaurants (dozens in Annapolis) participate in this vital program, and there are other collection sites throughout the region if you happen to be eating the bivalves at home.
Over the years, the ORP has been able to produce more oysters through the use of sanctuaries, public fishing grounds, and reserves. All of these acts have increased the presence of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. By teaming up with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and many other partners, ORP has been able to plant 8 billion oysters and continues to be active in local reef recovery efforts. They work with partners and other nonprofits who support the mission of restoring a healthy oyster habitat and overall Bay environment.
So, the next time you dine on raw or cooked oysters, think about their comeback. Think about how the men and women are bringing them back through science and best practices.
Videography and photography courtesy of Patrick McNamara of Drawn to the Image