Horn Point Hatchery produces record number of oysters for restoration

Efforts to restore the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay have been underway, and this season has proven to be the best one yet. The Horn Point Laboratory Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge, Maryland--the largest oyster hatchery on the East Coast--produced a record number of oysters in 2012 that have been planted in the Bay and its tributaries to help rebuild the faltering oyster population.

In partnership with the Oyster Recovery Partnership and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Horn Point Hatchery produced more than 880 million oyster spat--baby oysters the size of a pinhead that attach themselves to oyster shells with hopes of growing into a full-size oyster and naturally reproducing in the Bay.

This is the fifth year in a row that production has exceeded half a billion, progress towards fulfilling the goals of President Obama's Executive Order to restore oyster habitat and populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025. 

The public is invited to tour the oyster hatchery as part of the Horn Point Laboratory's Open House on Saturday, October 13.

"Our record oyster production is due to the dedication and hard work of hatchery director Don Meritt and his crew and the wise investments of the State of Maryland and our federal sponsors," said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman. "Our hatchery efforts are important for the restoration of oysters in Chesapeake Bay and the development of the oyster aquaculture industry in Maryland." 

The largest oyster hatchery on the East Coast, the Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery located along the Choptank River in Cambridge, Maryland, produces a variety of disease-free oyster larvae for use in oyster research, oyster restoration, educational projects, and the private aquaculture industry. Over the past decade, spawning oysters at the hatchery have resulted in the deployment of more than four and a half billion oyster spat to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay to aid in restoring the health of the Bay. 

“Our record production is a direct result of the dedication and commitment of both the hatchery team and the Oyster Recovery Partnership field crew," said Hatchery Program Director Don "Mutt" Meritt. "This combined with the state-of-the-art facilities located at the Horn Point Laboratory and the beneficial water quality during the production season each contributed to a bumper crop this year.”

Maryland's oyster partners--the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Horn Point Oyster Hatchery and the Oyster Recovery Partnership, along with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers-- have developed and implemented a large-scale oyster restoration program over the last decade that has resulted in nearly 4 billion oyster spat on shell produced and planted on 1,500 acres. During the 2012 season, this coalition of partners deployed 634 million spat on shell in the Chesapeake Bay and collected nearly 15,000 bushels of shell that will be recycled to provide future substrate on which new oysters will attach.

“The Oyster Recovery Partnership is thrilled to play a role in the largest oyster restoration effort our Bay has ever seen,” said Executive Director Stephan Abel. “We know that we are successful at building oyster reefs, now we are just refining the formula to do more with less.”

This season, about 460 million oyster spat were deployed to recently established sanctuaries, with most of those going to the Harris Creek oyster sanctuary. Over 100 million oysters were planted in the upper Bay to restore oysters killed by the high river discharges of 2011.

Roughly 200 million oysters were produced as part of waterman training project where the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, University of Maryland Extension, Oyster Recovery Partnership and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are working with Maryland watermen to produce their own oysters for aquaculture.

Oyster spat were also produced for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's oyster gardening program, MDNR's Marylander's Grow oysters and for private oyster farmers. 

The Chesapeake Bay oyster industry was the envy of the world until the oyster stock collapsed due to disease, habitat loss, declining water quality and historic over-harvesting. Oysters are a "keystone" species in the Chesapeake Bay. They not only filter and clean the water, but they also provide habitat for other important marine life such as blue crabs and striped bass. Oyster reefs are one of the most endangered habitats on the planet and critical to Chesapeake Bay recovery.

The Horn Point Laboratory, located on more than 800 acres on the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems. Horn Point scientists are widely respected for their interdisciplinary programs in oceanography, water quality, restoration of sea grasses, marshes and shellfish and for expertise in ecosystem modeling. With ongoing research programs spanning from the estuarine waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the open waters of the world's oceans, Horn Point is a national leader in applying environmental research and discovery to solve society’s most pressing environmental problems. 

The public is welcome to tour the Horn Point Laboratory and its oyster hatchery on Saturday, October 13, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The Horn Laboratory is located at 2020 Horns Point Road in Cambridge, Maryland. For more information, visit http://www.umces.edu/hpl or call 410-221-8433.