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Happy Homes for Oysters

Every half-shell you save makes a home for 10 baby oysters

Oysters don’t like to live alone. “They are very social,” says Oyster Recovery Partnership executive director Stephan Abel.
    They also like to be close to their families. Oysters grow up together, indeed bonded together, on reefs constructed by generations before them. With the destruction of reefs through centuries of all-out harvesting, new generations of oysters depend on us to supply new reefs of old shell for them to grow on.
    One source of that shell is collected by restaurants and festivals. Since 2010, the Parterships’ Shell Recycling Alliance has created a network to collect shell.
    Last month, the Alliance hit a 100,000-bushel milestone, along with its best collection year to date.
    Every half-shell collected creates a new home for 10 baby oysters. Shell collected in 2016, Abel says, “will enable the Partnership to plant more than 100 million baby oysters.”
    Funneling oyster shell to the Shell Recycling Alliance are some 300 restaurants, shucking houses, markets and other seafood vendors throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Thirty-four new members joined the Alliance this year.
    You can help by recycling your oyster shells. Shell is collected from public drop sites in 11 counties:
    “Surprisingly, one of the most heavily used recycling centers is at the Starbucks in Severna Park,” says Karl Willey, manager of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, another shell drop-off.
    Maryland offers a state tax credit of up to $750 annually for businesses and individuals who recycle their shell:
    The shells you contribute season for a year. Then they are put into a tank to attract baby oyster spat. Finally, the spat-laden shells are dropped back into the Bay to form reefs where the spat mature into adults spawning new generations of oysters.
    The Oyster Recovery Partnership has planted 6.7 billion oysters on more than 2,200 acres of oyster habitat in Maryland since 1993.