QUEENSTOWN — Near Queenstown, down in the Chester River, baby oysters are getting a head start with the Maryland Grows Oyster Program. Fifty cages were pulled from the river near the town’s dock with shell that is hosting lots of developing oysters. Last fall, oyster cages were filled with young oysters (spat) attached to adult oyster shells (spat-on-shell). With the spat having grown from the size of a dime to a half dollar, the oysters were ready to be taken and planted on reefs near Love Point to restore reef habitat.

David Sutherland, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis, said 50 cages is a lot, and the environment in the Chester River is ideal for this type of program. It actually has the most habitats in the Bay for this particular program, he said.

Although a public program, Fish and Wildlife is here to help support what will hopefully be a long term restoration effort, he added.

The Oyster Recovery Partnership delivered the spat from Horn Point laboratory in the fall, said Sutherland, with reef habitat at all time low, the spat that was set this past week will help jump start the reef ecosystem. Many other creatures, like the American eel and freshwater hooked mussels, rely on the reef and actually help contribute to its viability.

This particular reef in the Chester has been marked as a priority site by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said Sutherland, and there are plans to pursue a grant in collaboration with researchers from Washington College to establish still another reef site in the waters near Queenstown.

Another project in the works, he said, will be begun by the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center and the Queen Anne’s County public high schools, creating reef balls filled with spat on shell in an effort to help promote living shorelines.

The benefits of oyster reefs are many, said Kathy Reshetiloff, also with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those benfits include: providing habitat for oysters; serving as foraging areas and shelter for many aquatic species including American eel, blue crabs and striped bass; protecting shorelines from intense storm events; and improving the resiliency of the uplands.

Those looking to help the cause can contact Laura Wood, ag and outreach coordinator with Shore Rivers, at 443-385-0511 or in Queenstown only, Dave Sutherland at the Chesapeake Bay Field Office at 410-573-4582.

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