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  • The Oyster Recovery Partnership offers the Marylanders Grow Oysters program for those who live near water.
    Photo courtesy of the Oyster Recovery Partnership
    The Oyster Recovery Partnership offers the Marylanders Grow Oysters program for those who live near water.

Organizations Lack Funding To Continue Rebuilding Chesapeake Bay Oyster Reefs

Maya Pottiger
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May 15, 2018

There are currently no funds remaining to continue rebuilding oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.

After the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement was signed in June 2014, the watershed’s representatives made a list of goals that included restoring native oyster habitats and populations in 10 tributaries between Maryland and Virginia by 2025.

“We went from having a dedicated pipeline because the agency recognized the importance of this effort and the importance of the Chesapeake Bay as a national treasure to the nation as a whole,” said Allison Colden, a Maryland fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“Now, as that funding line has been zeroed out, it becomes a project that has to compete for discretionary funds,” Colden said. “It really makes it much more uncertain as to how and at what level these projects would continue to be funded without this continued funding.”

As it stands, one tributary is complete, two are ongoing projects and two haven’t been started.

“We still have a ways to go, and 2025 is coming up sooner than any of us realize,” Colden said. “It’ll be very important to continue to support this funding not just in the coming budget year, but in years to come.”

The Army Corps of Engineers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are the two major sponsors of these efforts. Without federal funding from those two agencies, there wouldn’t be enough incoming money to continue the rebuilding efforts.

Through NOAA, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen secured funding for these efforts in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

“Maryland’s oyster industry is vital to our bay economy, and I am committed to supporting the oystermen 100 percent. What’s more — thriving oyster reefs help improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We have made progress by making this issue a priority, and I am fighting tooth and nail in the Senate to get our oystermen the federal help they need to ensure a healthy harvest and a healthy bay.”

Though there are some remaining unused funds, $3 million to $5 million would be required to implement any further restoration, said Sarah Lazo, a public affairs specialist at the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We do have some funding left, but it’s not enough to actually construct anything,” Lazo said. “It can be used for planning and also for monitoring of constructed reefs, but it wouldn’t be enough to actually have work start in the water or proceed with work in any tributaries.”

Though there are many available tools to restore the bay, oysters and oyster reefs offer a unique advantage that other tools don’t.

“There are many programs and many tools that are used to help clean up the bay, and they’re all equally as valuable,” said Ward Slacum, director of program operations at the Oyster Recovery Partnership. “The uniqueness about oysters is it’s actually in the bay. Essentially, by the time a pollutant gets in the bay, you can’t recover it, but oysters help with that. They’re also a vital component to the ecosystem.”

For those who want to help continue the restoration projects, there are a variety of options.

“Reaching out to your legislators in Congress and letting them know that you support this is a great first step for most people,” Colden said.

For a more hands-on approach, the Oyster Recovery Partnership offers the Marylanders Grow Oysters program for those who live near water. The ORP drops off a cage of spat on shells, and then it’s your responsibility to clean them off and care for them for a year. Then, the ORP will pick up the adult oysters to be planted in the bay.

“The reefs that we restore don’t just help oysters, it provides habitat for other critical bay critters, like crabs,” Lazo said. “It also helps the bay ecosystem as a whole having this habitat there, and it helps purify and filter the waters.”

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