EASTON - When Scott Eglseder was growing up on Spencer's Creek near St. Michaels in the 1960s and 1970s, he said the seagrasses were thick and plentiful and that he remembers how sea life flourished.
“The abundance was just amazing and over the past 53 years I've seen that change,” Eglseder said. “Now in the middle of summer you go down to the end of the dock and you can't see very far down at all.”
Then one day Eglseder said he was at the Farmers Market in Easton when he saw a demonstration by a company called Johnny Oyster Seed of two large bowls full of water. One bowl was murky and the other, which was also filled with oysters, was clear. Johnny Oyster Seed was also selling oyster cages to grow oysters off docks that day.
Since oysters are natural water filters, Egleseder said he figured if enough people got involved in growing oysters from their docks to filter the water so sunlight can reach the seagrasses to better allow them to grow, maybe the the abundance of sea life would make a comeback while simultaneously helping oyster restoration efforts.
“I've got four grandkids now and I want the grandkids to do the stuff that I used to do,” Eglseder said.
That's how his brainchild, the Chesapeake Bay “Advance and Protect” Oyster Reef Recovery Initiative, which held its second annual Oyster Social on Thursday, came into existence in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources Marylanders Grow Oysters Program and Johnny Oyster Seed.
In mid-September, Eglseder said the organization will deliver oyster cages filled with oyster to docks of people participating in the program and pick up the cages in the latter part of May to be delivered to various oyster sanctuaries.
Chris Judy, head of the Marylanders Grow Oysters Program, said the program started with one participating tributary in 2008 and has grown to include 30 tributaries since then, and the program now has about 1,700 households participating with about 7,500 oyster cages.
In addition to oyster restoration, Judy said the program has other goals in mind, like education, outreach and getting people involved in and committed to the cause.
“We find often where people who are growing oysters then have a heightened awareness of the area, and then maybe they pay attention to, say, land use issues or another water quality issue,” Judy said. “We've got a lot of motivated people. People are involved, people are connected, people are motivated, and that's a success there.”
Judy said the oyster cages require minimal maintenance, and are conducive for growing oysters because the cages keep the oysters out of the sandy and muddy bottom, elevated in the water column and protect oysters from being eaten by blue crabs.
Eglseder said his program nearly doubles in participation rates each year, and getting involved is as simple as calling the office at 410-822-9143 and requesting a cage.