The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 11, 2013

Maryland Residents Help Raise Oysters, Protect Chesapeake Bay

By BOB MARCHIO For The Evening Sun
Associated Press

— Seafood lovers always wait for the months containing the letter "R," the traditional time for oyster harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay.

On a recent visit to the Ocean City, Md., area, I noticed that many waterfront properties have rectangular-shaped floats made from PVC pipe suspended under or near their docks. A friend residing in the area explained the floats held cages containing young oysters and the dock owners were participating in a state-run program called Marylanders Grow Oysters.

Initiated in 2008, the program is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources with cooperation from the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a number of local organizations.

The Marylanders Grow Oysters program has hundreds of waterfront property owners growing millions of young oysters. The object is to protect and raise young oysters -- called "spat" -- during their vulnerable first year of life and allow them to be planted in local sanctuaries where they can "enrich the ecosystem and our oyster population," according to the program data.

Oysters are important to any estuary, particularly the Chesapeake. The bivalve mollusks feed by filtering water through their gills, helping clear the water of sediment, nutrients and algae that can pollute a body of water. An oyster can filter up to 1.3 gallons of water per hour.

The program provides the cages, which are produced by inmates in the Maryland corrections institutions, and the spat. Aside from having an interest in maintaining a clean bay, participants must have piers with at least four feet of water at low tide and the willingness to maintain and raise the oysters for up to 12 months.

The cages, which measure 18 inches long and a foot wide, contain up to 800 spat when received. They are suspended at least six inches off the bottom, keeping the oysters out of the sediment and silt and away from blue crabs and other predators. This will also keep the spat from freezing in the winter months.

Program officials estimate that each cage with one inch spat will filter up to 50 gallons of water per hour. After a year's growth, the cages will weigh about 20 pounds.

Little maintenance is required. Program participants must keep the cages clean by lifting them up and down to remove sediment and algae, and they must prevent the cages from freezing.

After a year, the privately raised oysters are collected for permanent placement in an area closed to oyster harvesting. The landowners keep the cages and get ready for raising another batch of spat.

Shutdown warning: The federal government shutdown could affect where Pennsylvania sportsmen can hunt.

Hunting is prohibited at all times in national parks, and the hunting in other federal lands -- Allegheny National Forest, for example -- may also be off limits.

State game lands will remain open, as well as state parks and areas within state parks that are normally open to hunting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission stated.

The PGC said hunters should know the rules applying to the specific tracts they intend to hunt. If a federal property is closed because of the shutdown, hunters should find a different property they know they can access legally.

"For hunters who made plans that might change because of the shutdown, it could be a blessing in disguise," said Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. "We have in the Commonwealth more than 1.4 million acres of state game lands that hold good public-hunting opportunities and remain open, so fate could still work in the favor of any hunters who affected by the shutdown."

Block shoot: The McSherrystown Fish and Game Association will hold an all-money block shoot Sunday, Oct. 13, with registration opening at noon and the shoot to start at 1 p.m. Refreshments will be available.