Shelling out more oysters to improve the Chesapeake Bay
Every resident of the Chesapeake Bay area, as well as everyone who visits, appreciates the Bay in one way or another. Having lived in this beautiful region for more than eight years, I savor the serene waters, the wonderful boating opportunities, and of course, the abundance of seafood it provides.
That's why I'm especially grateful to all of the people and businesses who are working determinedly to improve the health of the Chesapeake. Working at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, MD, I've learned much about our area's oyster recovery program via the resort's involvement the past several years. In fact, Hyatt Chesapeake is one of few locations where the Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery, located at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, holds and maintains adult broodstock oysters used to produce larvae that eventually become baby oysters, or spat on shell.
The Horn Point oyster hatchery is one of the largest on the East Coast. In conjunction with the Oyster Recovery Partnership and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, it produced more than 880 million oyster spat in 2012. This is the fifth year in a row that production has exceeded half a billion, according to Stephanie Tobash Alexander, the oyster hatchery manager. Alexander said that this progress is making inroads into fulfilling the goals set by President Obama to restore oyster habitat and populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025.
Oysters are important both ecologically and economically to the Chesapeake. They are critical to the reef ecosystem, supporting a vast array of marine life. Oysters also filter the Bay, removing sediment and algae from the water column. And of course, oysters are delicious to eat!
The floats kept at the Hyatt to hold the broodstock require a lot of work. Up to 1,000 oysters can fit in one float. The oysters are inspected throughout the year to see how they are "ripening" or getting ready to spawn. Once the oysters are ripe, the Horn Point Lab crew tows the floats to shore, removes the oysters and transports them to the lab where they are cleaned, sorted and placed into a conditioning system until it's time to spawn. The dirty floats are power-washed and reused or allowed to dry. More oysters are brought back to the Hyatt and new floats replace the old ones each winter. Once spring comes, the broodstock rotation pattern begins again.
Another way the Hyatt is assisting in oyster recovery efforts is through the Shell Recycling Alliance effort, operated by the Oyster Recovery Partnership, which collects and uses empty oyster shells from participating restaurants to produce baby oysters at the hatchery. Our Bluepoint Provision restaurant collects 100 pounds of empty shells a week for the program. The shells are cleaned and refrigerated before being transported to the Horn Point Lab. The collected shells serve as cribs, in a sense, for the oyster larvae to attach to, so that they can become spat.
The success of the oyster recovery activities is very encouraging. As more is done to save and replenish the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay, all of us stand to benefit — now and for generations to come.
For information about Horn Point Laboratory and the Chesapeake Oyster Recovery Program, visit www.umces.edu/hpl.
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