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. As new businesses develop to produce oysters for waiting markets, 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 an Oyster Aquaculture Education and Training Program, including local workshops, demonstrations and short courses; statewide conferences; individual consultation with growers; and development of reference materials including fact sheets and web-based information.
Through a Demonstration Oyster Farm at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, new and existing growers can learn growout and management techniques to support their businesses. In collaboration with partners including the Maryland Seafood Cooperative and Oyster Recovery Partnership, we are engaged in a Remote Setting Training Program, equipping submerged land leaseholders with the skills needed to set larvae and seed their leases.
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 building and developing oyster aquaculture which brings economic growth and increased employment while greatly improving the environment.