We’ve all heard of people having dogs and cats, but what about pet oysters? Yes, that’s right! Through the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, South River Federation and West/Rhode Riverkeeper you can help raise oysters for restoration purposes. This program 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 our oyster population. Not only does this program help to restore our oyster population, but also provides community members with a way to further connect with the Chesapeake Bay. The oyster cages become biodiversity hotspots and are teaming with life. When pulling them out of the water, you have the chance to see a variety of fish, eels, mud crabs, shrimp, and other bay critters that otherwise go unnoticed.
You’re probably thinking, where do I keep the oysters and how do I feed them? The oysters hang underwater, suspended from private or community piers in mailbox sized cages. Oysters are filter feeders so they get all of their food by eating algae in the water. Care is minimal; cages need to be cleaned about twice a week by simply shaking them up and down and occasionally placed in the sun to get rid of nasty flat worms. You care for these oyster babies, called spat, for the first 9 months of their lives, from September through May.
How do you join? Here are the requirements:
- Have access to a private or community pier to hang the cages.
- Live in the South or Rhode River in an area appropriate for oyster growth (We will help you with this one!)
- Be a current member of the South River Federation or the West/Rhode Riverkeeper Program
- Be able to pickup and drop off the oysters to a pre-determined location at the beginning and end of each season.
To sign up or learn more, contact: Jennifer Carr (410-224-3802, email@example.com) if you live on the South River.
If you live on the Rhode River, contact Joe Ports (410-867-7171, firstname.lastname@example.org). This is the first year that we are participating on the Rhode River, so you can be part of our inaugural effort. For folks on the West River, Joe can also share information on the existing West River Oyster gardening program.
Why help raise oysters? Here’s what current oyster growers had to say:
“Marylanders Grow Oysters Program is an excellent way to encourage the health and bounty of the native oyster population. In my neighborhood alone, we have expanded from 12 cages in the 2010-11 growing season to over 50 requested for 2012-13 season! Once folks get involved in the program, their enthusiasm fans out and touches more people - adults, teens, and children alike. Caring for baby oysters is a great way to learn about the importance of the native oyster population as well as the ecosystems the cages create. Truly a fun way to make a difference and explore a hands-on connection with the river!”
LA Candon, Edgewater
“The oysters play such an important role in the health of the Bay and its tributaries. As soon as we heard about the MD Grows Oysters project, we wanted to get involved. Seeing the baby oysters grow in our cages and knowing we were giving them a better chance at survival was very rewarding, and the project requirements were simple to carry out. We plan to participate each year, and we encourage others with access to docks to do so as well.”
Bob and Lynn O'Dell, Hillsmere Shores