Inmates Help Restore Native Oysters To Bay

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PINEY POINT, Md. (WJZ) - It's hard work, but for prison inmates, it beats hard time.

Alex DeMetrick reports the ongoing struggle to restore native oysters to the bay takes all the helping hands it can get.

In the lull between passing downpours, it is raining oyster shells in St. Mary's County.

And those doing much of the work are prison inmates who are finishing up their time in a nearby pre-release facility.

"The only thought I ever gave to oysters was eating them," said Orsie Hayes-El, inmate.

But at a state hatchery at Piney Point, inmates have helped clean old shells. And in the lab, biologists have raised microscopic oyster larvae, which go into the tanks and set as spat on the shells.

"I really didn't know nothing about an oyster until I came out here, you know the spat and all that stuff, how they stick to the shells, and it's really amazing," said David Alfaro, inmate.

Because all those new baby oysters are headed back to the wild.

"This past year we put 25 million spat out. They've been the muscle and the backbone of our program to double production levels this year," said Gary Maynard, Sec. Public Safety & Corrections.

"Working to restore oysters helps more than the bay. "They learn some technical skills, but they learn those other skills, soft skills, you know how to get along with co-workers, how to get along with supervisors, how to take care of tools and equipment. Those kinds of things are meaningful to any job," said a worker.

Giving oysters a shot at life, and if they take hold in protected sanctuaries, maybe a healthier Chesapeake in the years to come.

Besides working with oysters, Maryland inmates have also been taking on other environmental jobs like planting trees and marsh grasses for wetlands.