By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Jan. 26, 2023) Dave Allen began raising oysters off his dock in Ocean Pines last February after hearing a presentation by Joe Jankowski about how to help clean the St. Martin’s River.
Jankowski, who also lives in Ocean Pines, works with the Protectors of the St. Martin’s River on the Oyster Restoration Project. He attended a Marine Advisory Committee in Ocean Pines to promote the idea of canal owners raising oysters to help improve the health of local waterways.
That might sound like using a toothbrush to sweep Ocean Parkway in terms of scale, but the filter-feeding oyster is one mighty mollusk in terms of its cleaning ability. Research by NOAA has found that a single adult oyster of three-to-five inches long can filter more than 50 gallons of water a day, every day, for up to 20 years.
Considering that Allen purchased two cages from Jankowski for $35 a piece and 75 seed oysters for $5, that means if all his seed oysters made it to maturity, they would be removing nutrients such as nitrogen from 3,750 gallons of water daily.
Jankowski makes the cages himself out of PVC pipe and thick plastic mesh and sells them at cost to anyone interested in growing oysters, also called oyster gardening. He says, “He builds about 20 cages each year in his free time.”
Allen’s first batch of oysters matured by November. At that point, he returned them to Jankowski to be planted on a reef in St. Martin’s River. He forked over another $5 for his next batch of seed oysters, which are now growing off his dock in one cage. Once they start to mature, he will move half of them into the other cage, so they have more room, and the cage is not too heavy to lift out of the water.
“Maintenance is pretty easy,” said Allen. All he must do is pull the cage up and down twice a month to wash out any muck. In warmer months he hoses them off. Allen said, “For a little effort, there is a great benefit,” he said.
Allen encourages all canal owners to participate in this project. He said people take the local waterways for granted. He said, “Let’s cherish it and not let it erode.”
Has Allen ever been tempted to harvest them for a nice oyster stew? “They have become like a pet to me now, so I don’t want to eat them.” If he is in the mood for oysters, he’d rather go to the Full Moon Saloon in West Ocean City and enjoy them there.
The Oyster Gardening program is a project of Maryland Coastal Bays Program and Protectors of the St. Martin River. Once the oysters mature, oyster gardeners return them so they can be added to a local restoration site or oyster reef in the Isle of Wight Bay.
Carly Toulan, an environmental scientist with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) said, “MCBP’s program is open to all full-time residents of the coastal bays area that have water access to hang an oyster cage. The Protectors of the St. Martin also has a handful of members who live outside of Ocean Pines along the St. Martin River. The Coastal Bays Program currently has 38 oyster gardening volunteers who maintain 30 cages.”
Jankwoski said, “I began this program in 2014. It has ballooned into about 65 people buying cages with seed oysters.”
For more information on this program, contact Carly Toulan at firstname.lastname@example.org Those interested in growing oysters off their dock or bulkhead can contact the Protectors of the St. Martin River at email@example.com.