The Maryland aquaculture industry is set to get a major boost when it comes to oyster restoration, according to several organizations that met this past Friday, on the campus of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, for a project kick-off event.
St. Mary’s College along with Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS), the Department of Natural Resources, and Shore Thing Shellfish, LLC, a start-up company on St. George Island, Maryland, met on Friday to kick-start the organizations’ collaborative project that will explore alternative technology to traditional oyster setting methods. The in-situ approach is expected to eliminate the labor-intensive and costly systems of traditional oyster setting by placing free-swimming oyster larvae directly in water columns rather than in land-based tanks. Partners anticipate that the new method will decrease mortality of baby oysters and improve set rates.
MIPS, in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources, are contributing a total of $80,955 to help fund the project. Shore Thing Shellfish is providing a total of $49,621 in funds, a portion of which will go toward labor and supplies.
“The St. Mary’s River is a significant part of our campus identity,” said Joseph R. Urgo, president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “It is, among many things, a living laboratory for classroom discussions and research. St. Mary’s College is pleased to collaborate with Maryland Industrial Partnerships, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and our alumni of Shore Thing Shellfish on efforts to benefit the river and other local waterways.”
“This project is important because it focuses on oyster reproduction,” said Professor of Biology Robert Paul, who is leading the college’s efforts. “Oyster reproduction is critical as we try to restore the population in the St. Mary’s River, and potentially, oyster populations far beyond. We are happy to have formed partnerships with like-minded organizations to see this effort through.”
“We are delighted to welcome St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Shore Thing Shellfish to the MIPS program,” said Martha Connolly, director of Maryland Industrial Partnerships. “These academic-industrial partnerships are a critical part of advancing innovation in Maryland. In conjunction with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, we are happy to provide funding for the important work of oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. We want to give particular thanks to Delegate John Bohanan for his support.”
Once introduced to the market, the cost-effective and environmentally friendly nature of the ‘in-situ’ method is expected not only to benefit Maryland’s oyster restoration and water quality improvement efforts, but also to benefit lease holders in the state’s waters who have shellfish planting requirements by the state.
“Shore Thing Shellfish, LLC is thrilled to be working with Maryland Industrial Partnerships and with St. Mary’s College of Maryland to develop an ‘in-situ’ oyster setting method,” said Mandy Burch of Shore Thing Shellfish. “We are grateful to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for providing funding for this important research and development. Three of the Shore Thing Shellfish members are alumni of St. Mary’s College [Burch ’01, Brian Russell ’08, and Kevin Boyle ’07] and we are excited to give back to a campus and a river that were so influential in our lives.”
Partners also expect that the benefits of the “in-situ” method could quite possibly extend beyond the state into the aquaculture of the Gulf Coast and the East and West Coast of the U.S.
“We expect that this project will be successful in improving the health of our waters, contributing to the economy, and enhancing recreational activities on the water. We look forward to bringing successful results to our community and beyond,” Burch continued.