Oyster shells from local event to help restore population of Chesapeake Bay

February 21, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Buddy Thompson dumps a box of oysters to shuck Sunday for the Rotary Club of Hagerstown's annual bull and oyster roast at Hagerstown Community College.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Their shells were once used to build driveways and roads, but now oysters have some new friends looking out for them, including some in Hagerstown.

For the first time this year, organizers of the Rotary Club of Hagerstown’s annual bull and oyster roast partnered with an organization to collect oyster shells from the feast to help restore the threatened oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

At Sunday’s roast at Hagerstown Community College’s Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, guests were provided with special recycling cans in which to deposit oyster shells.

After the dinner, Mike Johnston said the shells were taken to his company, M.S. Johnston Co. on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown. A representative from the Oyster Recovery Partnership will pick them up there, Johnston said.

Significant overfishing, an onslaught of silt and sediment, runoff and degraded water quality have overwhelmed the Chesapeake Bay’s remaining oyster reefs, leaving the oyster population levels at a fraction of what they once were, according to Oyster Recovery Partnership, which partnered with the Rotary Club of Hagerstown for the shell-recovery effort.

Johnston, chairperson of the local Rotary club’s environmental committee, said the club contacted the Oyster Recovery Partnership about recycling the shells from Sunday’s feast.

“My wife and I both are strongly (committed to the environment), and we’re big supporters of recycling and green behavior,” said Johnston, adding that recycling shells from Sunday’s dinner was a “no-brainer.”

The Oyster Recovery Partnership collects shells mostly from restaurants and seafood distributors, and the partnership with Sunday’s feast was believed to be the farthest west in Maryland that the organization reached to collect shells, Johnston said.

The shells are used as “nurseries” for developing oysters in the bay, club officials said.

Mike Storm stood at a table splitting open oysters for Sunday’s dinner, for which nearly 700 tickets were sold.

Storm, general manager of Shoreline Seafood, which provided 8,000 oysters for Sunday’s feast, said oyster shells used to be used for driveways and roads before people became more sensitive about the creatures’ future.

Michael O’Leary, who came to feast on oysters, said he thought the idea of recycling the shells from the event was a great idea.

Not only are oysters tasty, but “you got to honor them,” said O’Leary, of Baltimore.

Pat Dennis of Hagerstown said the shell recycling “made a lot of sense.” Dennis said a person at his table gave a lecture to others present about the importance of the effort.

The feast is one of the events the Rotary Club of Hagerstown holds to raise money for a charitable foundation. The money is used to fund about 40 local organizations, said Tracy Barlup, immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Hagerstown.

Tickets for the dinner cost $45 in advance and $50 at the door.

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