Volunteers pass bags of oysters for planting on sanctuary reef

How does the MGO Program work?

MGO is an annual volunteer oyster growing effort that takes place in many Chesapeake and coastal bay tributaries. The program’s goal is to educate the public about how oysters affect the Chesapeake’s health, and is an ideal way to engage communities to act on behalf of the Bay. ORP manages the program and works with a network of volunteer tributary coordinators and homeowners (aka “growers”) from tributaries that have salinity levels high enough to support oyster growth. Each participating tributary has a volunteer coordinator who serves as growers’ main point of contact, and who makes important decisions like when to plant, what supplies are needed, etc. The timeline for the program is roughly as follows – your local coordinator can share more specific details.

  • May – July: Oysters collected and planted on sanctuary reefs.
  • August – October: New batches of oysters and cages delivered to your community.
  • October – May: Oysters growing in water.

How do I get started with MGO?

To sign-up for the MGO program, fill out the online form, and then read the Getting Started page. An ORP staff member will reply to provide you with the nearest tributary coordinator’s contact information.

What do I do with my cages in the winter?

Oysters can die in frigid air, therefore it’s important that you adjust the cage line to lower your cages until they are just above the bottom, but not on it. The oysters must be totally under water at all times for the oysters to survive. Your oysters will not freeze as long as they are in the water.

Do I need to feed my oysters?

No. Oysters eat algae and the Bay provides it for them.

I can’t see any spat? Did I get blank shells?

Spat from the hatchery are very small – the size of a single coffee ground – and may not initially be readily visible. Let them grow for a month and they will be larger and easier to see. If by then you still don’t see any spat, then let your coordinator know.

What if my oyster cage becomes heavily fouled?

The accumulation of fouling organisms (similar to what grows on your pilings) is normal but can accumulate and become a nuisance – it can also make your cage heavy. Scrub your cage with a brush (no detergent or soap) and dip it in the water or hose it down.

Will the fouling growth hurt the spat?

No. The growth on the cage wire won’t hurt the spat. It will simply make the cage heavier. As long as the wire mesh of the cage is at least 50% open for water flow the oysters will receive plenty of water. In other words the cage could be about 50% closed up due to fouling and still the spat will be ok. But please tend the cages and keep them from getting so fouled/heavy that they are hard to transport.

When will the oysters be collected?

The oysters will be collected during May – June, about 9 months after you receive them. This time period avoids the heavy fouling that would occur if you continued tending the cages through the summer.

Will the oysters I grow be moved away from my river or do they stay here?

For a few tributaries, your oysters will be moved to an adjacent river because there is no sanctuary in your river. If you are located in a creek off a river that doesn’t have an historic oyster bar, then your oysters will be moved to the main river for planting. Small creeks and coves rarely have suitable bottom for oysters. For a few tributaries, your oysters will be moved to an adjacent river because there is no sanctuary yet in your river.

Why are my spat growing so slowly?

Slow growth could be due to lack of food, silt, low water salinity, or low temperatures. If the young oysters (spat) are stressed by high amounts of silt, growth can be stunted. Rinsing the oysters more often will help. If the salinity of the water is very low due to abundant rainfall, the spat may not grow very well. In this case, the only remedy is less rain, which Mother Nature dictates. Your spat may grow slowly simply because it is cold – water temperatures below about 50 degrees reduce growth dramatically.

Can I eat the oysters I grow?

No. The oyster seafood industry is highly regulated and waters where oysters are harvested are carefully monitored to ensure that the seafood is safe for human consumption. The MGO program often operates outside of these waters. Second, the oysters are too small to harvest after only one year in your cages. Finally, this project was created to enhance the oyster population so all the oysters will be planted in a sanctuaries.

What do I do if I can no longer care for the oysters and want them removed?

Please contact ORP’s Marylanders Grow Oysters Program manager: [email protected].

What if I have additional questions?

Please read through all MGO pages first. Still can’t find the info you need? Contact the MGO Program manager: [email protected].