A welcome breeze rippled the water at Lankford Bay Marina on Tuesday morning, June 14, as Mike Hardesty, Chester River Coordinator for the Maryland Oyster Growers’ Association, (MGO), welcomed oyster growers, MD Department of Natural Resource
staff, Chester River Association members, college President Mitchell Reiss, Kent County Commissioner as well as former waterman Ron Fithian, and others to the Chester River/Swan Creek MGO Inaugural Planting.
Hardesty, who is also program manager of Washington College Center for Environment and Society, gave a brief history of the MGO, which protects young oysters during their vulnerable first year of life, so they may be planted on local sanctuaries where the oysters enrich the ecosystem and the oyster population. The local oyster planting was initiated in 2008 at Eastern Neck WildlifeRefuge, by 8 farmers with 25 cages. CES and Swan Creek joined the MGO program officially in 2010; currently the two organizations have 63 oyster farmers caring for over 400 cages.
Chris Judy, Director of MGO as well as the DNR’s Shellfish Restoration Program, added that the program, launched by Governor O’Malley, is now effective in 24 tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, with growers monitoring over 8,000 cages. The cages are actually made by prison inmates; waterfront property owners are the growers. The oysters, approximately 80 to a cage, are allowed to grow for nine months, September to June. Each shell has 3 to 6 spats,
averaging 200 to 300 spats per cage – a good survival rate is 50 to 80 percent. The cages need to be kept clean of silt and sediment build-up, and, in winter, free from freezing. At the end of nine months the oysters are then collected and planted on bars. Judy joked that they become too tempting to eat if left in the cages much longer, then stressed that the MGO program was created for environmental issues.
Planting locations are determined through talking with watermen, examining historic oyster bar charts, electronic bottom surveys, and actually sticking a pole down to examine the bottom . Dr. Doug Levin, new associate director at CES, and formerly at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told the crowd that he has spent the last 30 years mapping the sea floor, and is now concentrating on electronically mapping the best oyster growing areas.
Oyster growers, DNR and MGO members then cruised out to marker 7 , Lankford Bay, in various boats, including Callinectes, the CES research vessel. Growers and dignitaries took turns throwing oysters overboard onto the bar. More oysters were planted Saturday, June 18, as well, off Lankford Bay Estates.
Waterfront property owners interested in becoming an oyster grower are welcome to contact coordinator Mike Hardesty at
410-699-1940 or email@example.com.