Letter to Editor, November 15, 2017

Recycled oyster shells from restaurants and shucking houses are one of the most important tools for building oyster reefs throughout the Chesapeake Bay and especially in the Choptank River. When a resource as valuable as oyster shells becomes scarce and more expensive, as is the case today, that creates a need for alternative, innovative solutions that are cost-effective and at least as efficient as the original natural shell.

In Harris Creek, Maryland’s first tributary chosen for large-scale oyster restoration, the State and Federal restoration team tested such an idea – the use of a rock substrate as reef‑building material. Since that reef was constructed in Harris Creek, the use of alternative substrates for oyster restoration in sanctuaries has been prohibited, pending approval from Maryland’s Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC), which will meet on November 20. Meanwhile, recycled oyster shells are becoming more expensive and harder to find in quantities necessary for restoration, which could potentially cause delays and setbacks in the progress that’s been made. But this past summer, the restoration team released their monitoring report for all the reefs constructed during that first year, including those constructed with the rock substrate. According to this report, and the reef built with the rock substrate had approximately four times more oyster density than any other reef!

Restoring and protecting our natural resources may not be a priority to the leaders of our current federal administration, which continues to threaten budget cuts, but it is a priority for our Maryland leaders. If we’re serious about restoring the oyster population, whether it be for the benefit of the oyster industry, for clear water in our rivers, or for healthy fishing habitat, the OAC needs to allow the restoration team to use alternative and innovative approaches that have shown to be effective when other resources, like oyster shells, are not available or become harder to come by.

Matthew Pluta
Choptank Riverkeeper