Oyster shells with baby "spat attached

Oyster "spat" on old shells, aboard the Robert Lee, the Oyster Recovery Partnership's vessel, on their way to be "planted" in Harris Creek near Tilghman. (Oyster Recovery Partnership / May 4, 2012)

Spring's time for planting more than flower and vegetable gardens.  it's oyster planting time, too.

Last week, the Oyster Recovery Partnership put 31 million baby oysters in Harris Creek, near the mouth of the Choptank River. The oysters were bred at the University of Maryland's Horn Point hatchery, and primed for planting once they had settled as "spat" on old oyster shells.

It was the first of a series of plantings the Annapolis-based nonprofit hopes to make this year, seeding Harris Creek, the Severn River and possibly a couple other spots in the Chesapeake Bay with a projected 300-500 million bivalves.

Harris Creek is getting special attention this year, as the first river targeted for large-scale oyster restoration to fulfill a presidential goal of replenishing bivalve populations in 20 bay tributaries. State and federal officials aim to restore 300-600 acres of oyster habitat in Harris Creek, of which nearly 100 acres are to be planted this year.  The restoration is for ecological purposes, not harvesting, as oysters filter the water and provide habitat for other aquatic creatures.

In the past decade, the partnership figures it's planted more than 3 billion oysters on more than 1,500 acres of reefs and recycled more than 15, 000 bushels of oyster shell.