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New oyster partnership aiming for 10 billion — with a 'B' — by 2025

New oyster partnership aiming for 10 billion — with a 'B' — by 2025
Inmates in the pre-release system dump oysters they gathered from two different locations onto a growing oyster bed on the South River. (By Joshua McKerrow / Capital Gazette)

A new partnership of 20 organizations has set a new goal for themselves, adding 10 billion — with a “B” — oysters into the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

The announcement Monday was part of ongoing efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay’s health. Oysters are a natural filter for the bay, but populations have been devastated over time due to overfishing and environmental changes. Both Maryland and Virginia have committed to restoring five tributaries in each state by 2025. That restoration will play a key role in the 10 billion oyster goal.

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But the oyster count includes all of the bay, which means other sanctuaries that are not “enhanced” will play an important role, too. This includes the South River Federation, which has been placing millions of oysters into the water each year. Just last year the organization put 3.5 million oysters into the South River.

“Every year we look forward to South River Oyster Day in the fall, when the oyster larvae from Horn Point Laboratory are set on old oyster shells at Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Oyster Center and it is time to set the baby oysters free in the South River,” said Jesse Iliff, South Riverkeeper.

“Restoring the vibrant habitat and tremendous filtration capacity of these oysters is a vital piece of our strategy to restore the South River.”

Planting 10 billion oysters will require focusing on three major priorities, according to a news release on the partnership. This includes “robust” oyster restoration funding, science-based management for sustainable harvests and expanding oyster aquaculture industries in Maryland and Virginia.

This focus is likely to have an impact on Anne Arundel County, which has several rivers and tributaries with oyster recovery efforts. While the state and county and other organizations have partnered on oyster recovery, the county government had hoped the state would select the Severn River for enhanced oyster restoration.

The Department of Natural Resources instead chose Breton Bay and St. Mary’s Rivers as its last two enhanced restoration locations. These joined Harris Creek, the Little Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers to round out Maryland’s five locations.

The partnership comes during a tumultuous time for environmental funding. President Donald Trump has proposed budgets that would have almost completely cut the Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program funding, a move that would drastically affect bay regrowth and clean-up.

The Chesapeake Bay Program was started under President Ronald Regan in 1983 and is a joint effort between federal and state governments impacted by the bay. Local governments, educational groups and businesses play a role as well. This program set the goal of restoring 10 tributaries by 2025.

Ultimately the money wasn’t cut, but that’s because Congress passed continuing resolutions that don’t radically change funding levels.

These troubles are listed explicitly in the 10 Billion Oyster Project’s website, with the partnership hoping to leverage its strength in any “management and funding challenges” that threaten the completion of their goal. About 1 billion in spat — baby oysters — are planted each year through restoration efforts, according to the website.

“We will never achieve a restored and healthy Bay until we restore the Bay’s oysters,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said in a statement. “This partnership will help make that happen.”

Below all the organizations that have partnered in the 10 Billion Oyster Project.

  • Restore America’s Estuaries
  • Building Conservation Trust
  • National Aquarium
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Coastal Conservation Association Maryland
  • Downtown Sailing Center
  • Friends of St. Clements Bay
  • Wicomico River Friends
  • Harris Creek Oyster Company
  • Hoopers Island Oyster Company
  • Lighthouse Point Marina
  • Living Classrooms Foundation
  • Mudgies Oyster Farm
  • Orchard Point Oyster Company
  • South River Federation
  • The Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership
  • University of Maryland Extension
  • War Horse Cities
  • Washington College
  • West-Rhode Riverkeeper

In Virginia:

  • Chessie Seafood
  • Elizabeth River Project
  • Lynnhaven River NOW
  • Pleasure House Oysters
  • Virginia Wesleyan University

Science advisers include:

  • University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
  • Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
  • Virginia Institute of Marine Science
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