Is Organic Farming Good for the Chesapeake? By Whitney Pipkin

Organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of the food industry in the United States, and its footprint in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is growing in kind.

The brand of agriculture that eschews the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and genetically engineered ingredients now makes up 20 percent of Perdue Farms’ poultry production on the Delmarva Peninsula, where the company is headquartered.

Smaller poultry producers in the region also are growing their organic operations at a steady clip: Bell & Evans, which is based in Fredericksburg, PA, and sells its chicken meat to high-end retailers such as Whole Foods Market, launched its line of organic products in 2009 and opened a certified organic hatchery this year.

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Organic opened its first poultry facility in Harrisonburg in 2014, providing contract feed growers interested in making the switch with an alternative buyer in that region.

As organic poultry production increases, so does the demand for organically grown grains to feed the birds, such as corn and soybeans, much of which comes from outside the country. But that’s beginning to change — and could represent a significant shift in land use for the Bay watershed. Perdue alone is buying organic grains grown on more than 13,000 acres of cropland across the region, and seeks much more.

The practices that earn poultry and grain producers the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic label may keep certain pesticides, antibiotics and hormones out of foods, but are they necessarily better for water quality and the Bay than conventional agriculture?

“The basic answer is, it depends on if you’re a good organic grower or not,” said Michel Cavigelli, lead scientist on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farming Systems Project in Beltsville, MD. “Not all organic is equal, and not all conventional is equal.”

Comparing organic and conventional practices on mid-Atlantic soils is just what Cavigelli’s team has been doing for more than 20 years. The project has measured the performance of conventional and organic cropping systems by applying the different management systems to fields planted with the same crops.

Nutrient runoff is one of several factors monitored that has implications for local water quality. When asked whether the growth of organic practices in the watershed could be good for the Bay, Cavigelli began with the caveats.

For starters, he said, each type of farming comes with tradeoffs: Conventional growers use genetically engineered seeds and herbicides to combat weeds; organic growers till their fields to suppress weeds, which can lead to erosion and nutrient runoff when compared with farms that practice no-till cultivation.

The project’s findings so far indicate that organic fields typically have less phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment runoff than conventional plots — unless those conventional plots are no-till. That, in part, is because organic farms tend to build organic matter in the soils over time, which helps fields retain water and nutrients. But some of that work is undone when an organic farmer, rather than using herbicides, tills the soil to prevent weeds.

About a quarter of cropland acres in the country are farmed using no-till practices, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture in 2012. Another 20 percent of those acres were farmed with other “conservation-tillage” practices aimed at minimizing soil disturbances. Maryland farmers had the highest percentage of no-till acres at 55 percent in 2012.

“Based on our studies, no-till has less runoff of silt and nutrients than any other method we use, including organic,” Cavigelli said.

Since time immemorial, farmers have fertilized and plowed croplands in the spring to turn over the soil and prepare it for planting. But heavy spring rains can wash fertilizer and soil from bare fields. The nutrients from fertilizers and sediment from freshly plowed fields run off into nearby ditches and streams, eventually winding up in the Bay.

No-till farming, which began taking root after the 1930s Dust Bowl, leaves the soil undisturbed from the fall harvest through winter. In the spring, seeds are planted in narrow slots that are “drilled” into the ground.

Cavigelli’s research project has compared the different cultivation regimens using virtually the same crop rotations, patterned after most commodity-growing fields in the Bay region, over a three-year period: corn the first year, soybeans the second year and wheat the third. In the third year, the conventional fields, including tilled and no-till, follow the wheat with a quick crop of soybeans, which are harvested too late in the fall to allow a cover crop to be planted. The organic fields, in contrast, are planted in a perennial alfalfa after the third-year crop, so they have less nutrient runoff that year than all of the conventional fields.

In the short-term, the runoff-control benefits of no-till farming edge out organic. But if the organic crop rotation pattern is repeated for decades, using cover crops for longer periods, Cavigelli said, the organic fields could end up performing better on overall nutrient absorption.

“We’ve been improving conventional for 100 years now,” he said, referring to technological improvements that have reduced conventional farming’s impacts on water quality over time, “and organic for just 20 years or so. There are trade-offs between all these systems, but it seems there’s a lot of room for improvement with organic.”

Cavigelli acknowledges that his work focuses on just a few aspects of the many comparisons that can be drawn between the farming practices. There’s another factor to consider — fertilizer use.

Organic crops typically use less nitrogen to begin with, or rely on slow-release forms of nutrients, such as manure, which reduce the risk of nutrient runoff and leaching.

While organic advocates bring that up as a water-quality advantage, other research indicates organic farming practices can leach just as much nitrate as conventional farming systems if the goal is to maintain the same crop yields.

With manure application, “it’s more difficult to be prescriptive,” said Ken Staver, research scientist at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “When you use chemical fertilizers, there are methods to apply it very precisely and to apply it closer to where the crop uptake is” to reduce nutrient loss.

But that comparison only holds true if the fields are planting the same crops. If organic agriculture does, in fact, plant more perennials such as alfalfa, Staver added, “that will always lower the nutrient loss.”

As a riverkeeper who grows organic grains for Perdue chickens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Jeff Horstman views the intersection of agribusiness and water quality from a unique perspective. Horstman is the executive director of ShoreRivers, a new consolidation of watershed advocacy groups on the peninsula — the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, the Chester River Association and the Sassafras River Association.

Those organizations’ priorities have at times diverged from those of local poultry producers, to put it mildly. The Waterkeeper Alliance, the umbrella organization for riverkeeper groups like his, filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit seven years ago accusing Perdue and one of its contract growers of polluting a Bay tributary. The case, dismissed by a judge after a lengthy trial, left a trail of lingering bitterness and suspicion between farmers and environmentalists.

But Horstman and others see in organic agriculture a growing opportunity to find common ground. “I moved back to the family farm and one of the things I wanted to do was become an organic farmer,” said Horstman — whose grandfather, J. I. Rodale, founded the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit devoted to organic farming research in Kutztown, PA. “I appreciate what Perdue does for the Shore and how they’re trying to cultivate organic.” he said. “I think agricultural diversity is good, and organic is a step toward that.”

This fall, the farmland Horstman inherited on the Wye River in Queenstown produced its first crop of organic corn — 170 acres of it — to be sold to Perdue for chicken feed.

Perdue got into organic poultry with its purchase of Coleman Natural Foods in 2011. In response to growing consumer demand, Perdue has since converted a poultry plant in Milford, DE, and a feed mill in Hurlock, MD, to process only certified organic products. The company has also banned the use of antibiotics by all its producers, not just organic operations.

The company has been spreading the word among local growers that it needs organic grains — and that the price is right. This season, farmers could get close to $10 per bushel for organic corn, which can come with lower yields, compared with $3 a bushel for conventional. But a farmer who decides to grow organically on a piece of land in 2017 typically would have to wait until 2020 to sell its first organic crop because of a three-year transition period required by the organic label.

Even with the lag, Perdue expects to have purchased 7,000 acres of organic corn, 3,600 acres of organic soybeans and 2,700 acres of organic wheat from Bay watershed states this year, company spokesman Joe Forsthoffer said. Most of Perdue’s organic grains are currently imported from growers in South America.

“The nice thing about the larger outfits like Perdue is, because they need it and have the capacity, they’re willing to do a contract that reduces your risk and locks in a price early,” said Matt Nielsen, the farmer who’s growing organic grains on Horstman’s land.

Nielsen, 33, also has 75 acres of his own land in organic production and is looking for more organic acreage to farm. He thinks 250 acres or so would be enough to achieve some economies of scale and would also allow him to diversify. He’d like to pasture animals on some acres that aren’t fit for crops and leave several fields at a time in perennial grasses to combat weeds.

But is all that better than the alternative when it comes to local water quality?

“The soil will truly benefit from a lot of different types of agriculture,” Nielsen said. “I’m not sure if you can conclusively rule organic as better or worse, but I do know that there are things we do in organic that have benefits.”

For Horstman, growing organic grains is a good place to start — both for his family farm and for the local water quality he’s concerned with protecting. Like the consumers who are fueling the organic industry’s growth, Horstman is concerned about the environmental and health impacts of conventional agriculture: its reliance on pesticides and herbicides and the way it bolsters an intensified approach to both grain and meat production.

“It’s definitely going to be better for human health, and I think less herbicides and pesticides in the water is definitely an improvement,” he said. “I do think it will be better for the Bay.”

Steve Levitsky, Perdue’s vice president of sustainability, said the company’s ultimate goal is to make organic poultry more affordable for consumers — and sourcing more organic grains from the Bay watershed, rather than overseas, will help.

“Part of the equation is getting more organic [feed] grown on the Eastern Shore,” he said. “That would also help the local grain farmers get higher premiums for their crops, and maybe they won’t need as large of a land mass to be viable.”

Perdue growers produced almost 40 million organic chickens in the Bay region in 2016, or 20 percent of the company’s regional production, with 80 percent of those houses in the Lancaster region of Pennsylvania and the rest on the Eastern Shore.

There are several reasons that organic chicken costs more at the grocery store, and some of them have stronger links to environmental benefits than others. Most of that extra cost is attributable to organic chicken feed, which can cost two to four times as much as conventional. Organic poultry houses also include comparatively expensive amenities, such as windows, “enrichment” equipment and access to the outdoors.

Alicia LaPorte, campaign manager for Fair Farms Maryland, a coalition of environmental and public health groups that advocate for better farming systems, said Perdue’s operation-wide antibiotics ban changed the industry, with other retailers and producers following suit. That gives her hope that other incremental changes, including the continued growth of organic production.

Fair Farms founder Betsy Nicholas, who’s also the executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said more organic options in the watershed might be a step in the right direction for local farmers and water quality — but one that still doesn’t go far enough.

Nicholas points to a growing number of small farms, organic and conventional, that are raising animals on pastures, rather than growing feed for them on the Eastern Shore and selling them to local markets.

“It’s absolutely better to have more organic than non-organic farming, [considering] pesticides alone,” she said. “But, ultimately, what we’d want to see is a more diverse agricultural system with more diverse crops. If you have a system that’s based on animal agriculture and the grain crops to feed that animal agriculture, that’s not a diverse system.”

Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. She is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources.

Easton Utilities’ Ted Book on the Rising Cost of Cable Rates

It seems like every year the senior management of Easton Utilities must prepare themselves to once again explain to the Town of Easton (their boss) and their customers why there will be another increase in their monthly cable fees. And like almost everything else in the world of the cable business and new technology, that answer is not the easiest question to understand.

If Easton Utilities was driven by profit or seeking an aggressive return on investment that question would be easy to answer, but that simply is not the case for this unique municipality-owned utility company. In fact, according to Ted Book, who headed up EU’s cable and internet programs, Easton Utilities has not increased base cable rates, i.e., the cost of physically providing the service through satellite dishes, cable, and maintenance for close to twenty years.

That is just one of the interesting facts that come out of the Spy’s recent interview with Ted about the cable industry’s alarming rate increases and the impact it has on small providers like Easton Utilities and their customers.

Ted’s point of view is particularly helpful given the remarkable fact that he has witnessed the almost entire history of the company’s involvement in cable and internet services. His perspective is quite useful as he discusses cable’s current chaotic marketplace as “cord-cutters” increasingly turn to internet streaming services for television networks which profoundly impacts cable’s core business model and the direct result of broadcasters demanding more money to carry their signals.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Easton Utilities please go here 

Easton’s Naomi Hyman to Be Democratic Candidate for Talbot County Council

Naomi Hyman has announced that she will be Democratic candidate for Talbot County Council and will launch her campaign and outline her priorities at 2:00pm on Sunday, January 14, 2018 at the Democratic Headquarters at 26 West Dover Street in Easton.

Naomi has been a bridge-builder and collaborative problem-solver in settings ranging from the boardroom to the family room for over three decades. She worked as an adult education and community programming professional, in vocational training, professional development, interfaith education, stress reduction, and wellness. She has lived and worked in Easton for nearly twenty years.


Bay Ecosystem: Annapolis Lawmakers face Continuing Bay Debates in 2018 by Tim Wheeler

As they return to their chambers this month, state legislators across the Chesapeake watershed face some of the same Bay-centric environmental issues they’ve seen before.

In Maryland, they’ll debate what more should be done, if anything, to conserve the state’s forestland from development and whether air pollution from chicken houses deserves a closer look. In Virginia, lawmakers will revisit what should be done with vast quantities of potentially toxic coal ash now stored in unlined pits at power plants. And in Pennsylvania, a proposal to regulate lawn fertilizer use, to keep it from fouling local streams and the Bay, is likely to rear its head again.

Legislators in all three jurisdictions will also tackle the annual challenge of scraping together the funds needed to meet their Chesapeake restoration obligations — made even tougher this year as support wanes in Washington for federal-state cleanup programs.

Adding to the mix, politics will play a bigger role than usual in how these and other issues play out. State legislative elections loom in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and their governors — Republican and Democrat, respectively — are seeking second terms. In Virginia, the newly elected Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, takes office with a legislature more evenly balanced between the parties than it’s been in ages, which could change how debates play out.


Forest Conservation: Lawmakers in Annapolis are being pressed by environmental groups to take another look at tightening the state’s 27-year-old forest conservation law.

Since the 1960s, Maryland has lost more than 450,000 acres of forest, and before 2008 it was losing up to 8,600 acres each year, according to a November report by the state Department of Legislative Services.

As originally passed in 1991, the Forest Conservation Act regulates the removal of large numbers of trees for development and requires either that new ones be planted elsewhere or that the developer pay into a local government fund for later plantings.

In March, using highly detailed land cover data from 2013, the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy estimated that Maryland had nearly 2.5 million acres of forestland, covering almost 40 percent of the state’s land.
But based on data reported by Maryland counties, activists said, the state experienced a net loss of 14,500 acres through the Forest Conservation Act from 2009 through 2016. And they contend that the 1991 law has been particularly ineffective at saving the largest and most ecologically valuable woodlands.

A study published last year found that while tree cover has increased in residential subdivisions in suburban Baltimore County since the forest conservation law passed, the most heavily forested tracts in the county continued to be carved up.

“When there’s intact forest ecology, that’s basically the most important kind of forest, and that’s the forest the [law] is doing the least to benefit,” said Elaine Lutz, a staff attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Last year, advocates pushed a bill that would have required one-for-one replacement of every acre of woodland mowed down for development. But it ran into fierce opposition from local officials and real estate interests, and failed to get out of committee. This year, green groups are crafting a more targeted bill that would tighten protections just on those woodland tracts deemed most ecologically important.

Lutz said the current law is “wishy-washy” on defining what types of forestland are most important to preserve and what kind of protection they should get. She and other activists want to see greater emphasis in the law on keeping those tracts untouched, rather than letting them be cut down in favor of trees being planted elsewhere.

“An existing mature forest is a lot more ecologically valuable than saplings in the ground,” she pointed out. Forests in the Bay’s watershed soak up nutrients in the air and in runoff from rainfall, and the Bay states have agreed that it’s critical to the restoration effort to maintain and expand forestlands.

Local government officials remain wary of tightening the law, but say they’d like to have more flexibility in where trees must be replanted and how they can spend funds paid by developers in lieu of replanting removed trees. But real estate interests argue the law is working and does not need a major overhaul.

“The Forest Conservation Act was never meant to be a no-net-loss policy,” said Lori Graf, chief executive officer of the Maryland Building Industry Association. The law is just one of several laws and programs aimed at halting the loss of the state’s forestland, she said, and recent data indicate the goal of maintaining the state’s overall forest acreage is being met.

While minor tweaks might be warranted to provide more flexibility for replanting, Graf concluded, “We feel like there are better ways to save the Bay.”

Renewable Energy: Last year, the legislature’s Democratic majority overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which increased Maryland’s renewable energy goal to 25 percent by 2020. This year, advocates hope to ratchet up the goal even more, with competing bills that would require 50 percent renewables by 2030, or even 100 percent by 2035. “It’s ambitious, but we think, especially given the federal climate right now, that the states really have to step up,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Environmentalists also want to stop treating “dirty” energy generators, such as those that burn municipal waste, as “clean” energy under the state’s law.
Rural Air Quality: Another returnee is the Community Healthy Air Act, a bill that would study whether rural Marylanders’ health is threatened by air emissions from the large-scale poultry growing operations concentrated on the Eastern Shore.

Chicken waste emits ammonia, which is currently unregulated, and it adds nitrogen pollution in the Bay when rainfall washes it from the air. The bill would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to collect and report data on chicken house emissions. The poultry industry successfully opposed the bill last year, arguing it should be left to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been studying it without action for more than a dozen years.


Environmental groups focused on Bay priorities have an uncharted political landscape to navigate in Virginia’s general assembly this session. Democratic victories in the November election chipped away at the House of Delegates’ once invulnerable Republican majority and — following the surprising outcome of a late-December recount, and ultimately a name pulled from a hat — leaving Republicans with the slimmest majority possible: 51-49.

“With the recent elections, lots of things changed,” said Pat Calvert, a policy and campaigns manager for the Virginia Conservation Network, which represents the conservation interests of 120 partner organizations.

Budget: Near the top of environmentalists’ wish lists this year is funding to help the state meet its water quality goals. Outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe included in his proposed budget, released in December, $42.5 million over two years to help farmers implement nutrient control systems and practices. That falls short of the $62 million that Bay groups would like to see from the state. At the completion of a year-long study by a legislative committee, advocates expect a bill to be presented that would help stabilize future funding for agricultural conservation practices.

“We really need to focus on ensuring that cleaning up polluting farms, and getting them to the level of our best operating farms, is a priority,” Calvert said.

McAuliffe also left out funding for a second straight year for the state’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which helps localities fund projects to reduce polluted stormwater runoff. Environmental groups are asking legislators to add $50 million for those programs into future versions of the budget.

Sewer Overflows: The city of Alexandria is seeking state funding to help pay for costly wastewater system upgrades to curtail overflows of raw sewage whenever it rains — an effort the legislature declared last year was not moving quickly enough. McAuliffe’s proposed budget includes $20 million for the Northern Virginia city.

Coal Ash: The permanent disposal of coal ash is likely to be the subject of another bill this session. To comply with a 2017 bill, Dominion Energy presented an 800-page report in December defending its plans for keeping the ash, a byproduct of burning coal for power, in covered pits at four of the company’s power plants near Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said he’ll present a bill that would encourage the company to consider excavating or recycling the coal ash into concrete and other products, as North Carolina legislators have required.


Funding bills loom as the commonwealth’s year-round legislature reconvenes in January, but there’s also a measure to regulate lawn fertilizer that would bring the state in line with others in the Bay watershed.

Bay Cleanup: The Senate was expected to vote on the Clean Water Procurement bill on Jan. 2, the lawmakers’ first day back. The bill would establish a $50 million annual fund with contributions from the state’s many municipalities that are required to reduce polluted runoff from their streets and parking lots. Instead of investing in costly taxpayer-funded stormwater remediation projects, proponents say, municipalities can meet their nutrient reduction obligations in a more cost-efficient way — by paying to help farmers deal with their animal manure, an even larger source of nutrient pollution.

In return, the local governments would be absolved from their mandates, according to the bill. The financing would be awarded to private industry to build large manure-processing systems. Municipal associations and some environmental groups are opposed to the bill, partially because it was written and promoted heavily by Bion Environmental Technologies, whose subsidiary BionPA1 is in default of a $7.8 million state loan on a pilot manure-to-energy project.

Harrisburg has seen several iterations of the bill pitched in the last four years. The measure has yet to be addressed in the House.

Lawn Fertilizer: Lawmakers will be asked again to approve a bill requiring lawn care and landscaping companies in Pennsylvania to train and certify employees before they can apply fertilizer to turf grass. The bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Adams), also limits application rates to reduce the likelihood of fertilizer washing off and polluting nearby streams and the Bay with unused nutrients for grass. The bill is a priority of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, which has succeeded in getting similar legislation passed in Maryland and Virginia.

Water Fee: A study report is expected on a bill that’s been stalled in a House committee since last May, which would raise about $250 million a year for water-related programs. The bill, introduced by Rep. Michael Sturla (D-Lancaster), one of five Pennsylvania lawmakers on the Bay Commission, would levy a 0.01 cent per gallon fee on commercial and industrial water withdrawals of more than 10,000 gallons.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. Her work for the Bay Journal often focuses on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and she is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources. Donna Morelli, based in Harrisburg, PA., is a staff writer for the Bay Journal. She’s the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Bay Oysters increasingly Resistant to Diseases

Oysters come to the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory for a checkup. But they never go home, even if they’re in peak health. They’ve sacrificed their goopy gray bodies to science.

The federal-state lab in the former fishing village of Oxford on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is where government scientists examine oysters and other fish for parasites, diseases and any other maladies that may be afflicting populations in the wild.

The low brick building was built in 1960, on the heels of a major oyster die-off in the Chesapeake Bay attributed in large part to a mysterious new disease called MSX. Since then, the lab has been engaged in a long-running effort in both Maryland and Virginia to track and understand MSX and another disease, Dermo.

Both are single-celled parasites that target oysters, but uncharacteristically can kill their hosts — in a matter of weeks in the worst cases. Dermo was first detected in the Bay in 1949, though it may have been here long before that. MSX first popped up in Delaware Bay in 1957 and in the southern Chesapeake two years later. Precisely how it’s transmitted remains unknown.

Both diseases have repeatedly ravaged Chesapeake oysters over the last five decades, and remain a major concern for the future of the estuary’s keystone shellfish. It is not only a source of income for watermen, but also a prolific water filterer and a builder of reef habitat for other fish and aquatic creatures.

Hundreds of oysters collected by Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologists during their annual reef survey are brought to the Oxford lab every fall. Once there, tissue samples are taken and processed, with cross-sections of the animal sliced thinner than a human hair, then stained purple, pink and blue-black and studied under a microscope.

“You see this pink coloration?” pathologist Carol McCollough asked as she pointed to one slide showing the cross section of an oyster’s internal organs magnified on a screen. The small blot in the oyster’s intestinal tract indicated that its blood cells were responding to something foreign, she explained. “There’s MSX in that area.”

That’s a much less frequent sight in the oysters examined these days at Oxford —and at its counterpart at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. Once a scourge of the Bay, especially its saltier waters, MSX has receded, and though still found infecting some oysters in some places — 11 percent on average in Maryland last year — it’s nothing like it used to be.

Dermo, on the other hand, remains widespread — nearly two-thirds of the oysters collected from Maryland’s Bay waters in the fall of 2016 had it. But Dermo doesn’t appear to be as lethal as it was in the past, either.

“The trend that we’re really seeing is that the mortality consequences of those disease pressures seem to be fairly consistently less than they were in previous years,” said Chris Dungan, a DNR research scientist who oversees the Oxford lab’s oyster evaluations.

Although there’s no direct evidence, Dungan said he and others think that the decline in dead oysters found in surveys “reflects increasing resistance to those diseases . . . by the process of natural selection.”

Ryan Carnegie, Dungan’s counterpart at the Virginia lab, said that, although it’s largely circumstantial, he also sees evidence that oysters have developed resistance to becoming infected by MSX. And there are indications, he added, that they’ve developed an ability to tolerate Dermo without succumbing to it.

MSX was once rampant among oysters in the saltier Bay waters in Virginia, but now, Carnegie said, “we do not see much MSX at all . . . which suggests they are resisting the parasite from colonizing their tissues.”

Dermo levels seen by Virginia’s fall survey so far appear to be normal, Carnegie said, though it’s a relatively new normal. Disease levels the last decade or so, he noted, have been higher than they were in the 1990s, the last time there was a major outbreak.

“The baseline for Dermo levels in the Bay has increased,” Carnegie said, “yet the oysters are doing better and better. . . . They’re not allowing themselves to be completely overrun by the parasite.”

That’s a big deal, he added, because at its peak, MSX was killing 90 percent of the oysters it infected in the Bay, and Dermo was killing 70 percent of those it infected — every year.

One of Carnegie’s graduate students, Lauren Huey, is looking into another phenomenon that may be a byproduct of oysters’ growing ability to tolerate Dermo: even though they’re infected, they’re ramping up their ability to reproduce.

Since 2003, around the time of the last major Dermo outbreak in the Bay, Carnegie said that research shows infected oysters have been able to increase their egg production.

“We don’t fully understand how they’re doing it,” he said, but it’s clear that oysters are living longer in the Bay than they used to. As a result of that longevity, they’re reaching bigger sizes and producing more eggs.

Carnegie cautioned that the Bay’s oysters aren’t going to be free of the specter of disease anytime soon. “It’s still a dominant factor influencing oysters,” he said, “but the oysters are starting to regain control of the situation and they’re doing much better.

“This has taken decades, and it’s a long race,” he concluded. The key to continued progress may lie, he suggested, in protecting the continued survival of those oysters that apparently have the right genes to fend off or tolerate the diseases.

For Bay scientists and managers, Carnegie said, “It’s a matter of promoting policies that are going to help the oyster help itself as it fights these parasites.”

To some, that may sound like leaving a significant number of bigger, older oysters unharvested so they can produce offspring — the intent behind establishing sanctuaries.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Habitat for Humanity Choptank has selected JoAnn Hansen as New Director

Habitat for Humanity Choptank has selected JoAnn Hansen as its next executive director. Hansen has been involved in advancing the mission and cause of non-profit organizations in Chicago, New York City, New Jersey, and now here on the Eastern Shore for more than 25 years. Most recently, she served as the chief executive officer of the Dorchester Family YMCA

Hansen follows Nancy Andrew who in October announced her plan to leave the organization in January 2018. This was timed so that an executive search committee could identify her successor and to have a productive transition. Andrew has served with the affiliate for over eight years including six as its executive director.

Outgoing executive director Nancy Andrew (left) and Habitat Choptank board president Charlie Bohn (center) join in welcoming JoAnn Hansen as the nonprofit’s next staff leader.

“Nancy has been a tremendous asset to our mission and its impact on the community,” says Charlie Bohn president of the board of directors. She led Habitat Choptank through the after effects of the economic downturn, growth of the home purchasing program, launch of a neighborhood revitalization program, expansion of the affiliate’s ReStore, and restructuring of the nonprofit’s balance sheet and funding sources.

Hansen was born and raised in Bonfield, Illinois, located approximately 60 miles south of Chicago. “It was a rural community not so different from the Eastern Shore,” notes Hansen. “I’m so grateful to have found my home here. Home is so much more than a physical location. It’s a place of safety and security with a sense of belonging and purpose. It’s a blessing to now be able to help others find those same things working with Habitat for Humanity Choptank.”

Hansen’s passion for serving people and communities is evident throughout her professional endeavors. “We are excited about what JoAnn can achieve for our affiliate and our work in Dorchester and Talbot counties,” says Bohn.
Her career has included public policy and program development in refugee resettlement and immigrant services along with fundraising and marketing to support special needs children. In working with Summit Area YMCA and then Dorchester YMCA, she focused on strategic planning and budgeting to advance the organization’s mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Hansen holds a BA in Communications with a minor in Public Relations. She completed a Masters in Counseling and Human Resource Development from Roosevelt University in Chicago and later received a Masters in Public Administration from New York University.

Since 1992, Habitat Choptank has made home ownership possible for 75 families and currently partners with 12 local home buyers. Income-qualifying individuals and families are offered access to affordable mortgage financing in order to purchase a new construction or rehabbed home from the nonprofit’s project inventory of durable and energy efficient houses. After completing “sweat equity” hours, attending pre-homeownership classes, and meeting debt reduction and savings goals, these buyers will purchase homes that they helped construct and assume the full responsibilities of home ownership including maintaining their home, paying property taxes and repaying their mortgage over 30 to 33 years.

In 2015, the nonprofit expanded its housing services with the implementation of a Neighborhood Revitalization program. Neighborhood revitalization focuses on listening to residents’ challenges and aspirations and then creating partnerships to make changes that are important to those residents. Based on that input and identified gaps in community services, Habitat Choptank’s inaugural neighborhood revitalization program has focused on providing weatherization services and critical home repairs to income-qualifying households, many of them seniors, in and around the neighborhoods where Habitat builds. To date, more than 100 households have partnered with Habitat for these services.

To learn more about Habitat Choptank’s programs, to donate or volunteer, call 410-476-3204 or visit or.


The Face of Suicide in All Seasons with Beth Anne Langrell and Lesa Lee

For the record, there is no such thing as a “Suicide Season.” While it may be tempting to think of these long dark days of winter as a critical time for those contemplating ending their lives, this has shown to be statistically not the case.

In fact, the risk of suicide is a four-season phenomenon which makes it all the more understandable that our Mid-Shore’s suicide crisis and prevention center is called For All Seasons. A mental health agency tasked with being the community’s front line to save those suffering from these impulses, For All Seasons have significantly invested resources and public education programming over the years to provide a safe and caring place for those at risk and their families.

The Spy recently sat down with For All Seasons director Beth Anne Langrell and its clinical director, Lesa Lee, to talk about the ongoing threat of suicide in the region and their views of how best to attack this cry for help from loved ones.

As part of that interview, the Spy wanted to match some of Beth Anne and Lesa’s comments to the real and recent faces of suicide in our country that were found online.  Young and old, male or female, white or black, over one million Americans are trying to end their lives each year. Those images say so much more about these avoidable tragedies.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about For All Seasons please click here 

Oyster Shell Recycling: Bay to Table and Back Again


At 7:30 a.m., outside of the Oyster Recovery Partnership office and by the trunk of his 2008 Toyota Corolla, Wayne Witzke traded his slides for a pair of brown rubber boots.

The bearded man hopped into a Ford F-550, fired up the truck — covered with oyster-camouflage — and shifted it into gear. Time to pick up smelly barrels of shells from roughly 30 restaurants in Annapolis.

“Just me individually,” Witzke said, “I pick up 100-150 restaurants” per week.

Witzke works for the Shell Recycling Alliance, an Oyster Recovery Partnership program that collects discarded shell from restaurants and seafood distributors in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia.

Witzke grew up near Salisbury, Maryland, “always going to tributaries of the bay, specifically the Nanticoke and living near the Wicomico,” he said. “I’ve always gotten to see how life on the bay is.”

He’s also seen the Chesapeake’s condition change.

“We’ve also had moments where we can’t necessarily go swimming in some of those tributaries because of bacteria and other things,” he said. “Loving to fish and crab and even eat some of the seafood that we get from it has opened my eyes to the plight of the bay and how, consequently, there are efforts out there to bring it back.”

While Witzke picks up, transports and unloads shell, he keeps the bigger picture in mind.

“Sure I’m just dumping the shells,” he said, “but each one will become a home for 10 baby oysters.”

He added: “It comes down to believing in the mission.”

Some of the shells are used for the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, which equips willing waterfront households with cages of oysters to hang from their docks.

The effort protects baby oysters in their most vulnerable stages. After a year, the homeowners return the oysters and the bivalves are planted in oyster sanctuaries to improve water quality, among other benefits.

The recycled shell is also used to bolster state and federally sponsored oyster restoration in Chesapeake Bay tributaries on the Eastern Shore of Maryland — the largest oyster restoration project in the country.

The shell Witzke and his colleagues recycle is delivered to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge, Maryland.

It is aged for a year “to get rid of any organic material,” washed with high-pressure hoses, and placed in metal cages containers, Hatchery Manager Stephanie Alexander told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

The containers of shell are then added to outdoor setting tanks. The larvae are introduced to the tank and regulated closely by hatchery staff, who take samples to measure how many attached to shells, Alexander said.

“If the numbers look good,” she said, “we’ll go ahead and turn the water on” and then schedule planting. The tanks are connected by an elaborate network of pipes, which pump phytoplankton-rich river water through the cages, providing a food source for the young bivalves.

Ready for deployment, the spat — baby oysters once they’ve attached to shell — are loaded onto a vessel and dumped onto oyster beds in the country’s largest oyster restoration project in and around the Choptank River.

Oyster planting can’t happen without hatchery-grown larvae. And hatchery-grown larvae need shells to survive, which highlights the importance of Witzke and his colleagues’ work.

Shell recycled by the alliance accounts for about a third of hatchery operations’ total demand of approximately 100,000 bushels per year, according to Tom Price, Shell Recycling Alliance operations manager.

The shell recycling program began in 2010 with 22 restaurants. Today, the alliance boasts over 336 members regionwide and counting, Price said.

This year, Price said, the shell alliance is on track to collect 34,000 bushels, with its grand total set to eclipse 140,000 bushels since the program’s inception in 2010.

On Nov. 9 — as he does almost every Thursday — Witzke set off to pick up shell from restaurants on the alliance’s Annapolis route. He’s refined his collection practice down to labeling certain cans with zip ties and has developed a walking route among the downtown restaurants. Each time he picks up a restaurant’s container of shell, he replaces it with a fresh can.

The aroma of a full can of old shucked oyster shells is nauseating. The containers stored inside are bad, the ones stored outside — open to the elements and subject to filling with water — are noxious.

Witzke’s used to it, though, and didn’t skip a beat.

Cans with zip-ties have holes in them to let water drain as they sit outside of restaurants. Witzke knows he can’t use those cans for restaurants that store shell indoors, because the rancid liquid inside would drip out.

As he approached the first, and newest, stop — Azure at the Park Place Plaza — Witzke squeezed the truck beside two moving vans, grabbed a rope he uses to drag full cans and took off into a dark loading dock.

“Let’s see if we can find this can,” he said.

The three-year shell recycling veteran has also noticed trends. Some restaurants, the “dink and dunks” as Witzke calls them, produce little shell, while others, the “heavy hitters”, consistently have multiple cans to recycle.

His downtown Annapolis route, which he does on foot, pulling cans on a dolly, began at the Market House by Ego Alley on the town’s renowned waterfront. He picked up at popular restaurants like Middleton Tavern and McGarvey’s Saloon & Oyster Bar, and then headed toward the State House and Galway Bay Irish Restaurant and Pub on Maryland Avenue.

To get to Galway Bay’s cooler, Witzke had to maneuver through an elaborate and narrow alley system. On this particular Thursday, the Irish pub, which prides itself on reducing waste, produced little more than a bucket of shell.

“It’s our mission to be good stewards of our planet,” said Gary Brown, assistant general manager at Galway Bay. Brown found out about the recycling alliance at a festival. The Recovery Partnership attends many festivals to spread the word about the program.

“I spoke with one of the ladies from the recovery partnership and decided to say, ‘Hey we’re going through all these oysters and there’s no way to recycle them,’” Brown said.

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve,” Brown said, “because they smell.”

If they leave the oysters outside, Brown added, they’ll attract flies, maggots and rodents, “which obviously as a restaurant we don’t want.”

So Galway Bay settled on buckets with a screw-on lid to negate the smell.

It’s not only about environmental stewardship for restaurants. The initiative provides free waste removal — the recycling alliance picks up their shell for free — and a tax break.

Each time they pick up shell from a restaurant, Witzke and the alliance record the amounts. At the end of the year, the alliance totals the amount of bushels each restaurant collected, creates a certificate and delivers it to the restaurant. For up to 150 bushels, the restaurant can earn $5 per bushel against its state income tax.

After loading the shell from the Irish pub onto his dolly, Witzke wheeled the oysters back to the truck.

On to the heavy hitters in the Eastport neighborhood.

Boatyard Bar & Grill recycled the most shell Nov. 9, with over six cans.

“We sell a huge amount of oysters,” said Dick Franyo, the owner of Boatyard, who outlined his restaurant’s “Buck to Shuck” promotion, which offers $1 oysters at happy hour and on Sundays.

Franyo, a self-proclaimed “bay rat,” said he grew up fishing and sailing around the bay. As such, he’s grown to understand the importance of cleaning it — and the oysters’ impact on the estuary.

“If you’re in the Chesapeake Bay region, your business is driven by the health of the bay,” he said. “People come here to eat local” oysters, crabs and rockfish (striped bass).

He added: “So goes the health of the bay, so goes our business.”

To get to the back of Boatyard, Witzke had to reverse the bulky truck down a narrow alley.

“All the other trucks scrape the walls,” Franyo said.

Witzke then retrieved the cans from an outdoor closet attached to the restaurant. The room was packed with full cans stacked on top of each other. He had to heft the heavy cans onto the ground before dragging them to the back of the truck. At the truck, Witzke heaved four cans onto a hydraulic lift,repeating until he’d collected all of them.

By about 1 p.m., Witzke had collected all of his shell. He got back on the road and headed for the Bay Bridge.

“This is the part of the job that drives me nuts,” he said, pointing to the pickup truck in front of him on Eastbound Route 50, “sitting in traffic behind someone that’s just moseying along.”

“I just want to dump or pick up my shell.”

Upon arrival at the Grasonville Solid Waste Transfer Station in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, Witzke steered the truck to the back corner of the facility. He turned and reversed toward the alliance’s mountainous shell piles.

As Witzke exited the truck, the rancid smell of of rotting seafood was startling.

Witze stacked each of the empty cans left at the transfer station from the previous trip. He maintains a rotation, giving the cans a few days to air out before exchanging them for full containers at restaurants.

Witzke swung open the Ford’s rear corral gates and slid containers to the edge of the truck bed before tipping them over, one at a time, pouring the contents onto the shell pile.

It had rained overnight and many of the cans had filled with water. Each time he turned over a container of shells, water splashed up.

And each time the pungent smell of rotten seafood slush pierced the air.

After about an hour, Witzke had cleared the truck bed and switched out the cans. Time to head back to the Annapolis office, a long day of smelly work on the books.

He climbed into the truck, leaving the putrid smell behind, and turned the ignition.

“Does the AC smell weird to you?”

By Alex Mann

Marylanders Deadline to Enroll in ACA Health Coverage Nears

A series of “last chance” events are scheduled for this weekend to help Marylanders enroll in Affordable Care Act health care coverage for 2018 before the Dec 15. deadline.

Free events are planned at 18 locations throughout the state Dec. 8-10. At these events, trained “navigators” will be available to assist people enroll in health coverage.

Despite the growth in ACA health care rates in Maryland in recent years, racial disparities in health coverage remain. The rates of minority groups’ participation still remain below the rates of the general population, according to the the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition, an advocacy group aiming to educate Marylanders about effective and affordable ways for consumers to access health care.

“It’s a focus for us, the groups that have been underinsured for years. We’re making progress, but there is more to be done,” Andrew Ratner, chief of staff of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

Minority enrollments are lagging compared to one year ago: African-American numbers are down 2,745, and Hispanic registration is down by 858, according to Betsy Plunkett, deputy director of marketing and web strategies at the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

“The NAACP strongly urges Marylanders to go take advantage of these enrollment events this weekend to get health care coverage,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches. “We have all fought very hard to enact and protect the ACA and health care coverage so let’s make it work for everyone.”

“The ACA is really important to us,” Stansbury added. “We need to make sure that all the ministers, churches and pastors make this a priority in their congregations….Get out and do what you can do for your family and your friends.”

According to Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, the Affordable Care Act has already proved successful in the state with over 400,000 Marylanders enrolled.

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch, D-Anne Arundel, a large supporter of “getting health care right in Maryland” and “protecting against rate-shock” to consumers, according to Busch’s website, spoke in favor of these events at the meeting.

“With the Affordable Care Act, the state of Maryland came down to having less than 6 percent of its population with no insurance. When you have more than 95 percent of people of the population insured it brings down everyone’s premiums,” Busch said.

It’s important for Marylanders to understand that they still have time to enroll, added Busch, and the hope is that 100,000 or more people will sign up.

Along with Busch, Michele Eberle, incoming executive director for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, spoke in support of the initiative.

For help this weekend and in the enrollment process, Eberle advises consumers to visit or to download the Maryland Health Connection free mobile app.

“It’s a must that you download this app, the neatest feature is that you can click, get help and find the closest-to-you broker, a navigator, a call center, and there is all sorts of free help to help you and your family find your best plan,” Eberle said.

DeMarco said that Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative hopes to propose legislation in the upcoming session to continue support for the ACA.

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have pushed to repeal and replace the health care law, known as “Obamacare.” One version of a tax bill making its way through Congress would repeal the law’s individual mandate.

“Our message to Washington is simple: The ACA is here to stay in Maryland….For those who are trying to undermine the ACA, despite these threats, enrollment is going up and Maryland is not scared,” DeMarco said.

By Georgia Slater

Bay’s Oyster Aquaculture Harvest Closing in on Wild Fishery

More than a century after the first oysters were planted on a Virginia bar, aquaculture has firmly taken hold in the Chesapeake Bay. The value of Virginia’s oyster farms production has eclipsed the public fishery, and many oyster experts believe Maryland is heading in the same direction.

As of last year, 173 Maryland oyster farmers have leased more than 6,000 acres of the Bay and its tributaries, all of which are actively producing oysters. Harvest from those leases yielded almost 65,000 bushels in 2016 — an increase of 1,000 percent since 2012. In the meantime, Maryland’s public oyster harvest, suffering from mediocre to poor reproduction since 2010, saw its harvest drop 42 percent in 2016 to about 224,000 bushels.

“Each year for the past five, lease numbers and acreage have risen along with aquaculture harvest, while public harvest numbers declined,” said Donald Webster, a University of Maryland aquaculture specialist. “This year and next will be very difficult for the public fishery and, frankly, I doubt it will ever recover to amount to anything again.”

Oyster aquaculture in Maryland wasn’t always destined for success. Jon Farrington has been growing oysters in Southern Maryland for about 10 years and has experienced changes in the state’s permitting process, as well as methods for oyster production, that have moved the state’s aquaculture industry past its rocky start.

Farrington left his aerospace engineering job in 2006 to try growing oysters in a Calvert County cove. One of only six oyster farmers in the state at that time, Farrington was battle-tested with the various bureaucracies that needed to sign off on permits to grow shellfish. When the state changed its laws in 2009 to allow oyster farming in every county, Farrington was first in line to apply for his second lease. He was hoping the new law would mean quicker approvals, more encouragement for watermen to enter the field and less resistance from shoreline property owners who don’t want cages and floats disrupting their view.

The law helped, and so have changes in the oyster farming process. But those changes took years. Now, nearly a decade later, Maryland has a $5 million aquaculture industry that has created close to 500 jobs in coastal areas, according to state figures, and shows little signs of slowing down.

Oyster aquaculture in Virginia is still far ahead, with $18.5 million in oyster sales in 2016. But Maryland aquaculture has definitely gotten its sea legs.

“I kind of thought maybe it would happen a little bit faster than it has,” said Farrington, who sells his oysters directly to restaurants. He also has a hatchery operation, selling “seed” oysters to fellow farmers. “On the other hand, the market has developed a lot more strongly than I had probably expected back then. All in all, I’d say, Maryland’s done a pretty good job.”

Several factors propelled aquaculture forward in Maryland after more than a century of resistance to the idea. First, more oyster farmers are raising “triploids,” sterile oysters bred from the Bay’s native species, Crassostrea virginica. Because they don’t expend energy on reproduction, triploids can grow to market size twice as fast as wild oysters — 18 months in Maryland waters, as opposed to three years for traditional oysters. In Virginia’s saltier water, they grow even faster.

Also, new techniques and equipment have made it more efficient: floating up-weller systems, which help seed oysters feed on plankton and grow more quickly, and a pulley system from Australia that rotates cages to reduce fouling and labor.

Many oyster farmers also find themselves in the equipment business; they can’t locate a cage or float that works in their location, so they make their own, and then other farmers want it. For years, Farrington sold a device called the Revelation that rotated oysters. Another oyster farmer, Johnny Shockley in Dorchester County, sells systems for cleaning and shaping oysters.

The state tackled bureaucratic hurdles for lease applicants. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources now coordinates the review process, sparing applicants the complexities of what used to be a multi-agency gamut.

At the federal level, oyster farmers complained that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which required a separate permit, put them through duplicative reviews, so there too the processed was streamlined. Leases generally take six months to be issued now, instead of a year or more, said Karl Roscher, the DNR’s aquaculture manager.

Roscher’s office has added staff to speed application processing, which is helpful, as his office has received more than 50 new applications in recent months. Also crucial, according to fisheries director David Blazer, is an online mapping tool that allows an oyster farmer to see if there are potential obstacles to getting a lease in a particular location. For example, if the proposed lease is on top of a public oyster bar or a well-worked clamming area, the state won’t approve it.

Money and training have helped, too. About 80 percent of the leases are worked by a spat-on-shell method, where watermen let larvae set on natural oyster shell and reach a certain size before moving them to bags or containers on the bottom. Webster, with help from University of Maryland Sea Grant, has been training watermen how to set oysters. The number of prospective oyster farmers seeking training has grown from six in 2011 to 45 last year.

Since 2011, the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. has approved $3 million in shellfish aquaculture loans to help growers acquire the needed equipment. The fund, known as MARBIDCO, originally prioritized loans to traditional watermen who were new to aquaculture. But MARBIDCO has since helped plenty of non-watermen, like Farrington and fellow Southern Maryland oyster farmer Patrick Hudson. The loans are low-interest and, if the borrower makes all of the payments, MARBIDCO forgives 25 percent of the principal.

Hudson, who was on his way to law school when he made a U-turn into the oyster business, said the MARBIDCO loan was critical. Banks, he said, aren’t inclined to lend tens of thousands of dollars for a start-up oyster enterprise.

“You have to buy cages and oysters before you sell anything. You need at least a million seed. And then you sit on it for a year and a half,” Hudson said. “Being able to pay just a couple hundred dollars a month was critical. Otherwise, you’re just leaving oyster aquaculture to the really rich people.”

For decades, that’s what watermen feared: that large seafood companies would gobble the leases, while the workers struggled. That has not come to pass. In several cases, watermen have become equity partners in oyster farms. Eric Wisner, a waterman, has about 500 acres under lease in the Nanticoke River. Ted Cooney, who owns Madhouse Oysters on Hoopers Island, has two watermen partners.

Cooney, who came to oyster farming after a career in healthcare financial services, said he’s pleased that the state is encouraging aquaculture. But the process still has problems. Almost three years ago, he applied for two leases in the Honga River; the state recently told him he couldn’t have one because it’s too close to a hunting blind.

“I was out of the swing of the gun, as far as I could tell, [but] two and a half years later, they tell me no. They should have told me 60 days after I applied,” he said. “In that time, I could have applied and already gotten another lease.”

Roscher said the goose blind didn’t show up on the state’s siting tool, so staff had to take measurements in the field.

Tension still occurs between user groups. While public oyster areas are generally established, clam beds and pound net locations are more intermittent. A few years ago, an Eastern Shore delegate introduced a bill in the legislature that would have made farming in clamming areas more difficult; the bill didn’t pass, so clammers and oyster farmers compromised, and the state promised to delineate clamming areas so farmers could avoid them.

Some influential property owners are still flexing their muscles, but Roscher noted that many of those efforts fail. Dialogue, he said, is far preferable to long lawsuits or boutique legislation. Last year, influential property owners in St. Mary’s County persuaded a state delegate to introduce a bill restricting oyster farms at historic sites; that bill, which was specific to the viewshed at Sotterley Plantation and Historic St. Mary’s City, died.

Roscher said that the public relations and bureaucratic problems are surmountable. What worries him is a shell shortage. The state and University of Maryland have grown oysters on alternative substrates built from granite and concrete, but they’re much harder to harvest from.

“There are a lot of different ways to grow an oyster,” Farrington said. “People are still trying to figure out what works best for their application, but as they do, we’re really going to see some production grow in the next couple of years. It’s still a relatively young industry, and people are really dialed in.”

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former Baltimore Sun reporter.


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