Watermen are Part of Bay’s Cultural Heritage

Shell Recovery

Maryland watermen are helping the Chesapeake Bay by reclaiming oyster shells from past plantings.

One of the biggest issues we foresee in the future is the need for shell — both shucked shell for aquaculture and restoration activities and dredged shell to harden bottoms. Shucked oyster shell is vital to efforts to enhance the native oyster population. Oyster shells are the most cost effective and efficient material to repopulate the Chesapeake Bay’s native oyster population and are used by the UMCES Horn Point Lab Hatchery and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Piney Point hatchery to create spat on shell that is used to rebuild oyster reefs.

Maryland has seen a steady decline in the amount of shell that it acquires from its Oyster Shell Purchase Program from oyster shucking houses. To support DNR’s shell collection program, the Oyster Recovery Partnership initiated a shell recycling program to collect disregarded shell from restaurants, catering businesses and seafood wholesalers.

In 2012, ORP in cooperation with DNR and watermen county-based organizations, began reclaiming shell from past shell plantings  around the Bay to rebuild the shell base of natural oyster bars that are then reseeded with natural or hatchery produced oyster seed. Over 400,000 bushels shell were reclaimed and planted on public fishery oyster reefs and on leases. We anticipate continuing shell recovery efforts in 2013; new strategies are being investigated to determine preferred methods to increase the efficiency in acquiring buried shell.

Derelict Gear Retrieval

The Derelict Gear Retrieval Project helps remove old crab pots and other gear from Maryland waterways.


The Derelict Gear Retrieval Project, often called “Ghost Pot Program,” is a win-win project impacting the Bay on both an ecologic and economic level. In the spring of 2012, the ORP in partnership with Versar, DNR and MWA employed nearly 800 qualified commercial crabbers on 436 vessels to participate in retrieving derelict crab pots from targeted areas of Chesapeake Bay. Efforts were guided by side-scan sonar that illustrated areas with the greatest concentration of derelict crab pots — generally at the mouths of tributaries. Watermen, using grappling hooks, worked for four days each to reclaim lost crab posts in 14 large areas (18 retrieval events) around the Bay. A total of 11,851 pieces of debris were documented. The majority of debris collected was related to crab pots and other fishing gear. Other debris items include anchors, rope, tires, chains and cables. The program was conducted in 2010 as well, when over 14,000 pieces of debris were collected.

Blue Crab Harvest Reporting Pilot Project

The Blue Crab Harvest Reporting Pilot Project is helping in the development of a more efficient catch reporting system.

In May 2012, ORP in cooperation with Blue Crab Design Team, MWA, CBCFA, EDF,  DNR, Electric Edge and Versar initiated a program to develop a robust electronic reporting system to track crab harvests. Over seven months, nearly 50 watermen participated in the program. The Blue Crab Design Team and Versar, the primary contractors of the program, designed a training curriculum for participants to learn how to use the reporting system and managed the program as it was rolled out. The pilot program will be continued and expanded in 2013. Click here for more information about the project.