Addressing the heart of the matter: Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology funds research for Horn Point Faculty

April 28, 2022

Hughes Center has funded two projects that will lend insight into pressing Chesapeake issues; generating reliable oyster production enhancing economic growth in aquaculture and understanding factors that can help farmers turn challenges into opportunities with climate change.


Hatchery team at the Horn Point Lab select broodstock to produce the season's larvae supply for restoration and aquaculture.

The first project addresses the rising demand for reliable spat, baby oyster, production from oyster hatcheries. This demand has been created by the onset of the Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration program and the rise in the Bay’s oyster aquaculture industry.  Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) faculty members Matt GrayGreg Silsbe, and Vyacheslav Lyubchich from sister laboratory, Chesapeake Biological Lab (CBL), will delve into a significant economic issue impacting oyster hatcheries, Bay restoration and aquaculture. 

The issue iswhat causes periods of poor larval growth and uneven production levels, termed “crashes” for hatcheries?  These crashes affect hatchery profitability and create bottlenecks in the supply chain for private growers, consumers, and state entities that manage Maryland’s natural resources.  Typically, the causes of crashes and their potential remedies are unidentified.  Silsbe, Gray and Lyubchich will address the problem by processing large amounts of hatchery and environmental data to identify conditions leading to hatchery inefficiencies and strategies for mitigating their impacts on production. Gray commented, “We are very excited to perform this research.  It will help provide deep understanding of how our hatchery currently operates and is influenced by environmental conditions.  This information can be used by managers to anticipate or mitigate downturns in production and exploit favorable times to enhance production.  This data-driven approach will really help usher hatchery production into the 21st century.”  

Hatcheries are heavily influenced by environmental conditions in their particular coastal zone because local waters serve the hatcheries need for large supplies of water.  Advanced machine learning will be applied to identify patterns between hatchery production outcomes and factors such as water quality, atmospheric conditions and implementation of agricultural fertilizers and herbicides upstream from the hatchery.  This extensive data analysis will help find the causes of crashes and factors for improving oyster hatchery production. 

Key to this project is sitting down and talking with farmers to hear their perspective on climate change and its challenges and opportunities.

The second project addresses farmers’ capacity to prepare for and address climate change.  An integrated social science approach will be used to identify technical support relating to barriers and opportunities.  From extreme and more frequent weather events to emerging agricultural carbon programs to capture and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change presents challenges but also opportunities for Maryland farmers.  The project’s work will be executed by Matt Houser, Regenerative Agriculture Fellow with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and associate research scientist at Horn Point, Amy Jacobs with TNC and Lindsay Thompson with Maryland Grain Producers.  Houser shared his enthusiasm for this project, “I am excited about the project for two reasons; I have the opportunity to work with wonderful collaborators in Amy Jacobs and Lindsay Thompson, and secondly, I come from a farming background and see how working with the farming community as absolutely essential.  We want to achieve more sustainable and resilient agricultural systems in Maryland in ways that accord with farmers’ values and helps them achieve better and more consistent profits in a tough economy.”  This team will interview farmers and technical service providers to gain an understanding of their respective: (1) views and experience with climate risks, (2) existing use of resilience-management approaches, (3) interest in and support for carbon programs, and finally (4) what barriers limit or discourage them from further engaging with these topics.  Interviews will be with farmers across Maryland and offer practical insight into how organizations and policies can better support the agricultural community as it addresses climate change.