The ever-changing recipe for making oysters has nearly been mastered here at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Horn Point Oyster Hatchery.UMCEES Horn Point Hatchery is well known around the Bay, and has been producing oyster spat for oyster restoration as well as scientific uses for as far back as I can remember. There's a certain simple pleasure in just doing one thing very well, and doing it over and over and helping a lot of different people and organizations. Mutt Meritt deserves all the praise he gets.
This year's record spat production, which should continue through September, should well exceed last year's total of 610 million oyster spat. During the past decade more than 3.5 billion spat have been produced at the hatchery, with more than 2 billion of those spat deployed in the waters of Chesapeake Bay through Maryland's restoration efforts.
Still, there is a shortage of a key ingredient oyster shells needed for spat to set on. With more private companies now in the business of growing oysters and with fewer seafood packers in Maryland processing oysters, there is now a great demand for oyster shells.
An Oyster Shell Recycling Alliance started in 2009 by the non-profit Oyster Recovery Partnership is vital to the hatchery operation, providing around 75,000 bushels of shells reclaimed from restaurants and shucking houses after processing at the Partnership's shell cleaning facility at Horn Point, not far from the hatchery operation.
Hatchery Program Director Mutt Meritt, speaking during a June 19 media tour of the hatchery, said the need for more shell is an evolving problem. "We will solve it," he said. "It's just not solved right now."
As for question of an alternative substrate for oysters, it's hard for me to believe it as difficult as they make it out to be Back when I worked in the Patuxent River, in good oyster setting years we had oysters set on fiberglass tank wall, vinyl linings, wood, rock, bricks and even more. I was afraid if I stood still in the water too long, they'd set on me. Clearly, the problem is not with the substrates themselves, but rather with having enough good years for them to set it.