Bunky Chance’s buy boat Myrtle Virginia, her diesel engine humming quietly, slid out of Grace Creek last Sunday morning. She followed Chance’s other buy boat Marion M, towing a tender skiff, making her way out into Broad Creek and Choptank River, heading for the lower Chesapeake to take on tons and tons of oyster shells for replanting on bars throughout the Bay. Word along the waterfront is that Chance’s work is focusing on bars in the Chesapeake waters off of Somerset and Dorchester counties.
The two buy boats, closer to a hundred years old than not, have been sitting side by side along the Grace Creek wharf in Bozman – in front of Chance’s home – all winter long. In the long, dark nights of winter, light bulbs burned inside the wheel houses of each of the vessels, sentinels to indicate electricity was still flowing to the bilge pumps that ensure the vessels stay afloat until their spring oyster shell planting work begins.
PT Hambleton told me the buy boats headed off to the Bevans Oyster Company operation on the western shore’s Yeocomico River for 15 days of loading shells from the company’s shucking complex for replanting on bars designated for replenishment and restoration. “They go 24/7 except for Sundays,” said Hambleton. “They load in daylight, sail at night, offload shells to the bars the next morning, and then start over again.”
It’s all part of long-term restoration efforts in Chesapeake Bay. According to Maryland’s 10-Point oyster restoration plan published back in 2010 or so, 90 percent of the Bay’s native oyster habitat has been lost over the past quarter century. The state figures at least 10,000 acres of oyster habitat have to be rehabilitated to facilitate a large-scale recovery.
The oyster shells being planted this week by Chance and other similar operations throughout the Bay system will enhance and expand optimum growing bottom – known as cultch – for little oyster larvae to attach to and grow into larger oysters.