I once helped Tampa Baywatch plant oyster shells along a mangrove island in the Tampa Bay area. Joining the effort partially as a journalist on assignment, I got a firsthand look at how backs of oyster shells planted in strategic locations provide the kind of natural surfaces to which oyster spat (tide-born young) like to adhere.
Oyster young will also anchor to other hard surface like docks, piers and seawalls, but they greatly prefer the feel of other oyster shells. Promoting such natural expansion helps combat the impacts of waterfront development and pollution.
I think that’s why my attention zeroes in on news of oyster restoration projects like the one going on in Chesapeake Bay.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and partners recently resumed oyster restoration in Harris Creek as part of the Maryland and Virginia statewide oyster restoration program laid out by the Corps' Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan.
The project includes constructing 1-foot reefs using rock and mixed-shell materials. Constructed reefs will be made of: 1) rock only, (3 to 6 inches in size); 2) combination of rock and mixed shell; or 3) mixed shell only (2 to 3 inches in diameter). The shell comes from processing plants in the mid-Atlantic region and is permitted to be imported and placed in the river. The rock is quarried in Havre de Grace, Maryland.
Water Clarity: Filter feeders, oysters get their meals by straining sea water and removing various organic matter—much or which we don’t want in the waters you fish. With an adult oyster capable of filtering 10 gallons of water per hour, this provides a free cleaning service that improves water quality and fosters growth of all the things we do want.
In Tampa Bay, planting oyster reefs near storm drains has proven effective at reducing pollutants entering the environment.
Shoreline Stabilization: Rigid shell mounds act as wave buffers and minimize the erosion that gnaws away at sandy shores. Such protection allows marine grasses and other vegetation to take root; thereby furthering the habitat that harbors juvenile fish and crustaceans.
Fish Magnets: Anglers particularly appreciate the fact that oyster bars offer habitat to various crustaceans, invertebrates and baitfish, along with the gamefish that seek them. Redfish, black drum, sheepshead, speckled trout, snook—all spend plenty of time poking around oyster bars.
Taking all this into consideration, saltwater anglers might want to put in a few volunteer hours the next time the local environmental group plans an oyster planting project.