Harris Creek Oyster Restoration Project Comes to a Close - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Harris Creek Oyster Restoration Project Comes to a Close

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

TILGHMAN ISLAND, Md.-  An oyster restoration project that watermen on Tilghman Island have been upset about for years came to a close on Tuesday. 

It has been four years since Harris Creek was closed as a sanctuary, and work began there, using rocks and shell to create oyster reefs.  That chapter came to a close as the last of the oysters were thrown overboard Tuesday afternoon.  But the watermen who work those waters say they say they still aren't sold on this project.

One by one, the last bushels of oysters were thrown into Harris Creek.  It was a big day for the people behind this project.

"More than 350 acres have been planted in this creek over the past four or five years," said Peyton Robertson, director of NOAA's Chesapeake Bay office.  "The grand total of number of oysters planted is going to be around 2 billion plus.  So, really a major milestone in terms of trying to restore tributaries in the Chesapeake Bay."

If this sounds familiar, it should.  A similar project took place last summer in the Little Choptank River, and more work is under way in the Tred Avon.  But the watermen that work these rivers are concerned with some of the materials being used, namely rock.

"I think it's a good idea.  If the state of Maryland wants to plant oysters, that's wonderful.  I don't think using the rocks is a very good idea.  If I wanted to plant tomatoes, I wouldn't plant pumpkin seeds, I'd plant tomato seeds.  So if you want to grow oysters, plant oyster shells, not rocks," said waterman Patrick Murphy. 

"It would have been really bad to lose the creek and put natural shells, [but] they didn't do that. They put rocks, granite, shells from Florida, and clam shells from New Jersey that were rotten," said Russel Dize, another Tilghman Island waterman.

NOAA said the rocks are not a problem though, because oysters will cling to rock just like shells.

"As the restoration effort gets bigger, and as aquaculture comes into it's own in Maryland, there's a lot of competition for a little amount of shell," said Stephanie Westby, head of the project for NOAA.  "So where in those places where we could find the shell we needed to rebuild the reef, we used shell."

NOAA said the rocks were just used to provide reef structure, with seed shells laid over top.

The groups involved say Harris Creek is showing a lot of promise, and looks like it will continue to for many years to come.  The watermen though, still ask:at what cost?  NOAA says the end result is you have a robust oyster population.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a report which shows that rocks, along with shells, can in fact be used as a substrate for oyster reefs. 

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