Oyster aquaculture has a long and historic presence in Maryland. Our first lease law was passed in 1830, making the state one of the first three in the nation to enact this legislation. The latest, led by Maryland Governor O’Malley in 2009, led to a total revision of century old laws, most of which had no place in spurring industry growth. During the past two years over one hundred applications for new leases have been submitted as new businesses develop to produce oysters for waiting markets. As growers have increased, so too have support businesses such as equipment fabricators and shellfish nurseries.
To generate industry development, Maryland has provided innovative support programs. University of Maryland Extension is leading a three-year Oyster Aquaculture Education and Training Program. Activities include local workshops, demonstrations and short courses; statewide conferences; individual consultation with growers; and development of reference materials including fact sheets and web-based information.
We partner with other agencies and NGOs in the Remote Setting Training (RST) project. This project, coordinated by our friends at the Oyster Recovery Partnership, provides setting systems around the Bay that growers can use in two-week blocks. One-on-one training to produce seed for planting is carried out with the UM Horn Point Hatchery staff. Growers produced 32 million seed oysters in 2011 while 2012 production jumped to over 211 million. Several growers have now constructed large systems of their own and we are seeing increasing mechanization boosting production further. Other support programs include dedicated low-interest financing from MARBIDCO, a state agricultural lending agency, and support for bottom habitat enhancement through the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Services’ Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP).
Oysters are not only a keystone species for our bays but can generate many benefits for our state. Extension continues to provide leadership in helping build and develop oyster aquaculture which brings ECONOMIC GROWTH and INCREASED EMPLOYMENT while greatly improving the ENVIRONMENT.