Closing out the 13th Season of Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters

At the end of May, we wrapped up our 13th season of oyster restoration with our Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters program. In case you aren’t familiar with this program, it is part of the state-wide Marylanders Grow Oysters program, which is managed by the Oyster Recovery Partnership. Local groups, like the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center have a specific territory where they provide oyster cages and oyster spat on shell to volunteer oyster growers. These volunteers hang the cages off their docks for about 9 months, during which the oyster spat grow into juvenile oysters in a protected environment with a little extra water flow as compared to being directly planted on a wild oyster reef. After 9 months, we collect the cages, take some measurements to see how the oysters did, and plant them in the Harris Creek Oyster Sanctuary.

For our 13th season, we had 112 oyster cages placed with 32 different volunteer oyster growers, including a few cages hanging here at Easton Point Park. We received the oyster spat on shell from the Oyster Recovery Partnership on August 31st and they were an average of 6.1 mm in size. When collected and measured at the end of May, the oysters had grown to an average of 30.9 mm in size, which is 1.22 inches. The largest oysters were around 60 mm in size, which is 2.36 inches. Considering that the general rule of thumb is that oysters grow an inch per year, we are pretty happy with these results. Overall, we estimate that we planted just over 31,000 oysters in the Harris Creek Oyster Sanctuary this year! We’d like to say a big thank you to Captain Jerry with the Choptank Terrapin Oyster Company for assistance with planting the oysters this year.

While Phillips Wharf staff were out collecting cages, we saw hundreds of critters that were living with the oysters including grass shrimp, mud crabs, striped blennies, naked gobies, skilletfish, bristle worms, and the occasional American eel. This is always a wonderful reminder that even while temporarily hanging at your dock, oysters are providing valuable habitat to a wide range of animals.

Now that our oyster growing season is over, we are preparing for the 2024/2025 season of Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters, which will be our 14th year of this program! If you’re a new grower and are interested in joining the program, you can fill out and return this waiver to us. If you’re a returning grower, you can fill out this waiver and return it to us. They can be returned to us electronically or as a hard copy. If you have any questions or need a hard copy of either waiver mailed to you, you can send an email to oysters@pwec.org

Please be aware that the state-wide Marylanders Grow Oysters program has experienced a reduction in funding. This means there is less spat on shell to go around so many organizations will be shrinking their programs. Here at Phillips Wharf, we are still working to regrow our program after the pandemic, so we are hoping to provide cages to every interested volunteer grower but we will be limiting the maximum number of cages to 4 for returning growers and to 2 for new growers.

Thanks to the restoration efforts of thousands of folks across the Bay, oyster populations are starting to increase. This is great news for everyone that cares about the health of the Chesapeake Bay and we are thrilled to be a small part of this important work.

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