The Oyster Recovery Partnership collected 4,000 bushels of shells from restaurants, caterers and wholesalers in the Chesapeake Bay region in 2010 - shells that will create the foundation for the next generation of oysters.

The 2 million individual shells were used to plant more than 20 million baby oysters at the University of Maryland's Horn Point Hatchery, which has been involved in a Marylandwide restoration effort of oysters. It's a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed - ORP in total processed, cleaned and transported more than 60,000 bushels of shell that helped to produce 450 million oysters. But every little bit helps. The state is currently unable to dredge for shells in the Chesapeake because a habitat conservation group challenged their permit to do so. Meanwhile, the cost of shell from the Gulf Coast is increasing. So, Maryland needs all the help it can get in acquiring shell. Without it, hatcheries can't set and grow oysters.

The idea for the restaurant recycling program came from shuckers, who knew about the Bay's acute shell shortage and often drove the shells themselves to Horn Point. Last year, ORP set up collecting bins near clusters of caterers and restaurants and had someone collect the shells. About one year after collection, the shells go into tanks with larvae, which set on the shells and become spat.

About 50 restaurants in the watershed are part of ORP's Oyster Shell Recycling Alliance. ORP recently added a large wholesaler, JJ McDonnell and Co., which collects shell from about a dozen restaurants. Their participation will let ORP double its efforts in 2011, according to the organization.