This has been a record year for oysters and the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's oyster culture facility at Horn Point and its partners the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and others have produced more than 1.2 billion oysters during the 2013 production season. This is the first time any oyster hatchery nationwide has produced more than one billion Eastern oyster spat in a single season.
“The success of this year’s hatchery production demonstrates that with the necessary infrastructure and support of our oyster restoration partners, the Horn Point hatchery and its new oyster setting facility are capable of producing the spat that these facilities were designed to produce,” said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman.
“None of this would have been possible without the hard work from our dedicated hatchery staff and the support of our partners, the Oyster Recovery Partnership and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources,” said Hatchery Program Director Don "Mutt" Meritt. “It is truly an example of how much can be accomplished by working cooperatively towards a common goal to bring healthy oyster populations back to Chesapeake Bay. This year we took a bigger step towards accomplishing that goal than ever before.”
The Oyster Recovery Partnership successfully processed the necessary shell and deployed more than 700 million hatchery-produced oyster spat to Harris Creek as part of the innovative sanctuary program. Funding was provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and several private foundations. The remaining 500 million spat were produced as part of a program designed to train watermen to produce oyster seed for use in their oyster farming operations or was used to enhance the public oyster fishery. Some production was also used as part of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program and by other conservation groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as part of their localized oyster recovery efforts.
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, striped bass, and many other species that make up the oyster reef ecosystem. Oyster reefs are one of the most endangered habitats on the planet and critical to Chesapeake Bay recovery. Oyster restoration was recognized as an important component of President Barack Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, and production of spat from the Horn Point hatchery has been an important tool in working toward its objectives.
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's oyster cultivation facility at Horn Point, the largest oyster hatchery on the East Coast, is a focal point for oyster restoration and research in Maryland and the region. Researchers are working cooperatively with other organizations to continue to improve production methods and learn more about how best to return our once abundant oyster resource to the Chesapeake. Future efforts are aimed at improving bottom preparation techniques to enhance survival, obtaining good quality estimates for improving deployment techniques for the most efficient grow-out, and continuing to improve husbandry for the hatchery.