A new front has been opened in Maryland in the effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population. On July 28, the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s vessel, Robert Lee, planted 18.5 million hatchery-spawned juvenile oysters in Eastern Bay on the Eastern Shore.
That was the first installment in a new reef-building campaign launched jointly by the watershed group ShoreRivers, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Oyster Recovery Partnership to plant 100 million juvenile oysters in Eastern Bay by the end of 2023. DNR has committed to fund the planting of 70 million oysters there, while ShoreRivers has pledged to raise $75,000 to pay for an additional 30 million oysters.
Eastern Bay, including its tributaries the Miles and Wye rivers, was historically a productive source of wild-caught oysters. But Dermo and MSX diseases decimated the bivalve population decades ago, and it has struggled to recover since, despite previous restoration efforts. In 2010, about a quarter of the habitat was set aside in several sanctuaries off limits to harvest.
Last year, the DNR Oyster Advisory Commission. which had struggled to find consensus on oyster management, recommended a sustained effort to restore Eastern Bay’s bivalve population. The group called for spending $2 million annually to rebuild and replant reefs there over the next 25 years, with the funding to be evenly divided between the sanctuary and public fishery areas. The initial July 28 planting targeted a sanctuary reef off Tilghman Point.
Gov. Larry Hogan included funding for Eastern Bay restoration in the fiscal year 2023 budget approved earlier this year. The General Assembly followed up by passing legislation requiring the governor to continue funding the effort through 2026, with subsequent spending dependent on periodic project evaluations.