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Green Job Opportunity Benefits Offenders and Oysters

A crew from the Southern Maryland Pre-release Unit has spent this past summer learning the basics of oyster repopulation in St. Mary’s County, while also helping a vital aquaculture center rejuvenate the Chesapeake Bay oyster population. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) partnership with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is part of the State’s Marylanders Grow Oysters effort.

Since starting in February, Division of Correction (DOC) offenders have logged over 700 hours of work at the Piney Point Aquaculture Center. During that time they crafted 42,000 shell bags, which they loaded with 24,000 bushels of oyster shells. The shells are the preferred settlement substrate for oyster larvae. The crew is also responsible for cleaning and transporting the many shells to the various growing stations where the larvae are introduced and attach to the shells. Once ready for introduction into the Bay, the crew loads the shells on boats that plant the baby oysters on an oyster bar. It is estimated that approximately 25 million spat have been planted during the entire process this year.

DPSCS Secretary Gary D. Maynard and DNR Deputy Secretary Joe Gill recently toured the operation, along with several local elected officials. The effort is part of Marylanders Grow Oysters – a program under Governor Martin O’Malley’s Smart, Green and Growing initiative. With the ability to filter up to two gallons of water an hour, adult oysters are a key contributor to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Repopulation under this initiative not only includes the introduction of oyster spat to the open waters by DNR, but also the contributions of Maryland citizens who live along inlets of the Bay.

Through the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, citizen volunteers tend to young oysters growing in wire mesh cages suspended from private piers for their first year of life. The oyster spat and cages are provided by DNR and other program partners at no charge to the volunteers. The cages are crafted by inmates through Maryland Correctional Enterprises at both the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown and the Eastern Pre-release Unit. By the end of this summer, the DOC will have made 9,000 cages for this program.

For the pre-release offenders working at Piney Point, it’s not only an opportunity to earn income before their eventual return home, but a way to contribute to something bigger than themselves. They also learn employment skills that can be transferred to real-world jobs upon release. This is just one of many sustainability projects DPSCS is involved in. Others include planting more than 620,000 trees towards our goal of one million, growing and planting bay grasses and performing maintenance for many Maryland parks.

See more photos of the oyster repopulation efforts at Piney Point on our Facebook page.