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Out of a Job

At 10 million oysters, SMOCS calls it quits

Front to back: Len Zuza, Bill Wright, Matt Regan and at the helm of the Calvert Marine Museum boat, Ken Kaumeyer.

"Oysters are a lost cause. You’re going to fail."

Len Zuza heard those words again and again back in 2007, when he and five collaborators founded the Southern Maryland Oyster Cultivation Society.
    Six years later he can say Told you so.
    SMOCS will end its oyster restoration efforts in triumph at year’s end.
    Native Chesapeake oysters now thrive in restoration zones totaling five acres in five creeks, including Back Creek, Mill Creek and St. Johns Creek, all feeding the last, wide stretch of Maryland’s Patuxent River.
    “We planted far more oysters in the past six years than we ever thought,” said Zuza, who presided over the effort.
    Ten million oysters, roughly.
    “That’s four million more spat/oysters between 2009 and 2013 than the whole Marylanders Grow Oysters program, whose projected total is 6.4 million,” Zuza told Bay Weekly.
    The oysters thrived. Mortality was only eight percent. On all the planting sites, spat and yearling grew into healthy, naturally reproducing oysters, measured by good natural spat set in both 2010 and 2012. Generations of oysters reef together in densities of 200 per square meter, far higher than Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ success measure of 15 to 50 per square meter.
    Two roadblocks stopped the cultivators from building further on their success. First is the scarcity of oyster shell as restoration efforts expand throughout the Bay. Without shell as reef base, baby oysters sink to the bottom of the Bay where their chance of survival is small.
    Second, new DNR oyster-protection restrictions closed areas of expansion.
    Oyster restoration isn’t over, Zuza said. But it’s time for SMOCS to take off the training wheels and let nature run on its own.
    “The Solomons community can take pride,” Zuza said. “We worked together, set a goal and knocked it out of the park.”