Cabinet Officials Tour State Inmate Oyster Program
Piney Point Aquaculture Center Partnership Plants Over 25 Million Oyster Spat

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Towson, MD (August 12, 2010) — Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service (DPSCS) Secretary Gary D. Maynard and Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deputy Secretary Joe Gill toured the Piney Point Aquaculture Center today in St. Mary’s County to get a firsthand look at the Southern Maryland Pre-release Program at Piney Point.

“This program is a win-win for Maryland and the Bay,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “The inmates involved are not only helping restore the Bay and its fragile native oyster, but they are also learning green job skills that will help them build a new life and career when they are released.”

Offenders participating in the program are getting a chance to start a new life by giving back to society, and help rebuild the oyster population. Offenders start by washing old oyster shells, the preferred settlement substrate for oyster larvae. Once the shells are clean, they are placed in mesh bags. The bags are then placed in large tanks filled with water from the nearby creek. Oyster larvae are added to the tanks and allowed to settle on the bagged shells. Once the larvae have attached to the shells, the bags are then transported by local watermen to an oyster bar, where they are opened and the baby oysters dumped overboard onto the bar.

Since starting in February, the Division of Correction (DOC) offenders have logged over 700 hours of work at Piney Point. During that time they crafted 42,000 shell bags, which they loaded with 24,000 bushels of oyster shells. The crew is also responsible for cleaning and transporting the many shells to the various growing stations.

It is estimated that approximately 25 million spat have been planted during the entire process this year. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences (UMCES) provided 342 million oyster larvae to create the spat. Statewide, over 300 million spat have been produced and planted through efforts by UMCES, DNR and the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

The tour comes as Governor Martin O’Malley’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan is being reviewed by the General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Commission for implementation in September. The plan is designed to increase Maryland’s network of oyster sanctuaries — from 9 percent to 25 percent of remaining quality habitat; increase areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture and streamline the permitting process; and maintain 76 percent of the Bay’s remaining quality oyster habitat for a more targeted, sustainable, and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

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 oysters require minimal care – mostly rinsing the cages every two weeks. 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 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. On any given day DPSCS has an average of 400 offenders across Maryland working on similar Public Safety Works projects in the community.