Big 5 Tributaries
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the beginning of our planting season until June. Nevertheless, working hand-in-hand with the UMCES Horn Point Hatchery, ORP’s restoration team produced and planted nearly 185 million spat-on-shell on nearly 50 acres of sanctuary reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. Again this year, the Little Choptank River, Harris Creek, and Tred Avon River were the focus of much of ORP’s work to restore oyster populations in five Bay tributaries by 2025. Work in the Little Choptank River was completed in 2020! At over 358 acres and taking more than 2 billion baby oysters planted this is one of the largest oyster restoration projects in the world! Check out a video on the effort here. To date, ORP has planted more than 8½ billion juvenile oysters in the Bay’s waters.
ORP’s long-term monitoring program continued to monitor restored reefs in 2020. The program documented thriving three and six-year-old reefs providing evidence that restoration goals are being met. More info here.
Build-a-Reef: Severn River 2020
This summer, the Severn River Association and Oyster Recovery Partnership celebrated a boatload of juvenile oysters being planted in the Severn River, funded through the Operation Build-a-Reef campaign. Thanks to the generosity of local communities, businesses, foundations and Bay-lovers from across the region, we crushed our goal of 10 million oysters, deploying 16.9 million spat-on-shell in the Severn River's Weems Creek on July 23, 2020. This effort was a follow-up to a 2018 planting of 45 million oysters in the Severn. In addition to the many friends and supporters who donated to Build-a-Reef, this would not have been possible without the dedicated staff at Horn Point Laboratory, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the Severn River Association. Visit buildareef.org to donate, or learn more about hosting a campaign in your community!
Marylanders Grow Oysters
The Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program took place in September and October of 2020. ORP distributed almost 6,000 cages filled with spat-on-shell to coordinators representing 23 Chesapeake Bay tributaries. While not the largest volume of bags in the program’s history, the 2020 MGO program adhered to strict social distancing and hygienic measures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The approximate number of spat-on-shell produced by UMCES Horn Point Oyster Hatchery for the program was more than 3.6 million! MGO engages more than 2,000 growers who donate their time and effort to support the growth of young oysters during their most vulnerable first year of life.
Charter Boat Pilot Program
We're pleased to announce that the first year of the Maryland charter fishery electronically reporting their harvest using FACTS has been a success. At the start of December, 71.43% of the Maryland charter fishery is using FACTS and have logged over 13,000 charter trips in FACTS this year. We're grateful to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, FACTS, and the charter industry for their support along the way. Next year we are looking forward to integrating shellfish commercial harvest into the FACTS electronic reporting system, so any interested shellfish harvesters should keep an eye on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources E-Reporting with FACTS website for training opportunities and updates in 2021.
ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance collects free of charge from collection sites and hundreds of restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic, making it the largest oyster shell recycling network in the nation. Until 2020, ORP was seeing increased collection totals every year. This year, the organization has recycled less than half of average projections: approximately 15,000 bushels in 2020, compared to 36,000 bushels in 2019. Even though restaurant operations were significantly impacted by the pandemic, ORP crews remained steadfast in their quest to collect shell from the approximately 100 operational SRA restaurants, and ORP’s 70 public drop sites.
Seafood Industry Support during COVID
With many Bay-area restaurants closed or operating at limited capacity, dining and seafood sales have dropped dramatically. This especially affects the oyster industry, as harvesters have ready-to-eat Chesapeake Bay oysters and limited places to sell them. ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance is also experiencing a critical shell shortage that will affect future reef restoration projects. ORP has spent the past several months encouraging residents to enjoy the Bay’s bounty at home. Promoting local seafood through a four-part vlog, hosting four virtual shucking events, highlighting public shell collection sites, and sharing a comprehensive guide on how consumers can support the seafood industry. From oyster farms, seafood markets, restaurants, caterers and other industries, we’ve spotlighted more than 50 local businesses through events and promotions.
Sip 'n Shuck Events
Most oyster events and festivals were cancelled in 2020, so ORP took the oyster party virtual. Our organization has hosted a series of “Sip ‘n Shuck” online shucking happy hours throughout the year, with the goal teaching viewers how to shuck and promoting direct to consumer seafood sales. Together with Bay-friendly businesses, we’ve worked to make shucking an at-home, fun and fool-proof experience. Partners have included: Maryland’s Best Seafood; The Walrus Oyster and Ale House; The Curious Oyster; Harry Browne’s; OystersXO; Hollywood Oyster Co., Orchard Point Oyster Co.; Flying Dog Brewery; Wither Hills Wines, and The Oyster Ninja to name a few.
Borne from Sip N’ Shuck, was the OystersXO Starter Kit, which includes all the necessary supplies and instruction for the novice shucker to confidently open and enjoy oysters at home. The purchase of each kit supports Maryland’s oyster businesses and oyster restoration projects. In fact, the purchase of one oyster kit supports the planting of up to 5,000 oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Bay Paddle, an epic, 203-mile stand-up paddle board journey to raise awareness and funds for oyster restoration, took place Sept. 18 – 26, 2020. The paddler, Chris Hopkinson, traversed the length of the Bay from Havre de Grace, MD to the Atlantic Ocean, completing his journey on Saturday, September 26. Some fun facts: Chris took more than 134,400+ paddle strokes, covered 203 miles, burned 27,000 calories, and paddled for more than 55 hours total! His efforts resulted in over $183,000 raised for oyster plantings in Maryland and Virginia, enough to plant more than 18 million new oysters! Get a full recap of Chris’ exciting journey on the Bay Paddle blog.
Special thanks to title sponsor, Flying Dog Brewery, as well as gold sponsors Allstar Pain Management & Regenerative Medicine, Old Bay, Jim Perdue, and TowBoatUS, and to our nonprofit partners ClearSharkH2O and The Nature Conservancy for supporting the Bay Paddle.