O’Malley touts record oyster planting
Posted: 1:07 pm Fri, October 11, 2013
ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley on Friday touted a record year for producing and planting native bay oysters in Maryland, voicing hopes that the state has turned a corner to revive the natural Chesapeake Bay filters from their badly depleted levels.
The University of Maryland Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery team in Cambridge produced 1.25 billion Eastern oyster spat this year, the governor announced. As a result, 750 million baby oysters have been planted at the Harris Creek Sanctuary.
“We’re finally headed in the right direction, and our continued commitment to renewing this iconic species, this vital species, has begun to bring about tangible and real evidence of progress,” O’Malley said at a news conference at the Annapolis Maritime Museum.
Since 1994, the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has been at about 1 percent of its highest levels on record. In 2010, O’Malley launched the Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan with the aim of rejuvenating the state’s languishing oyster population.
The plan included a variety of measures, including an increase in oyster hatchery production and a citizen oyster growing program.
The Marylanders Grow Oysters Program has grown from one tributary with 170 growers in 2008 to 30 rivers and creeks with 1,800 growers, the O’Malley administration says. Maryland prison inmates also have chipped in, producing 12,000 cages used for the program. Pre-release inmates also work directly with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources staff at the Piney Point Aquaculture Center to support baby oyster production.
The governor also said state and federal agencies have expanded protected waters for oysters in Maryland from 9 percent to 24 percent. Protected waters are oyster sanctuaries where oysters can’t be harvested.
The state’s plan also has focused on moving the state’s oyster industry to aquaculture, which grows oysters in cages and trays instead of taking them directly from the wild. DNR has worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to streamline the permitting process. The effort included a partnership with the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. to offer affordable loan financing to shellfish growers.
Since 2011, $2.7 million in loans have been approved for 49 shellfish aquaculture projects in 10 counties, the administration says. In addition, 85 new shellfish aquaculture leases have been issued on 1,567 acres, and another 66 lease applications are being processed.
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