Last Tuesday offered a very interesting chapter in a long story concerning the development of commercial aquaculture and “Chesapeake Fresh Oysters” in Southern Maryland, i.e. “floating oyster beds” anchored in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Some years ago, a local outfit under the name Circle C Oyster Ranch made a go at growing, harvesting and offering for sale oysters from floating beds anchored in St. Jerome’s creek, in Ridge, MD. This “aquaculture” practice was and is popular from a State of Maryland perspective, providing badly-needed water filtration and cleansing services while protecting the slowly recovering natural oyster beds from over-harvesting. The enterprise received many grants and public interest, but eventually withered under negative community relations and mismanagement, along with rejection of permit renewals by the DNR, to become a derelict flotilla of abandoned floating oyster beds with dead oysters, strewn all over the lee shores and native marshlands.
Enter the Chesapeake Fresh Oyster Company, Inc. to the area, with its “new and improved” strategy for community relations, renewed permit applications and new ownership out of Baltimore. At the Leonardtown MD government center, last Tuesday’s public input session held to review the permit renewal brought out the local Ridge landowners and Community Association, as well as the local Health Department, to share information and provide feedback to the new commercial venture.
Chespeake Fresh Oysters, Inc. appears to be headed in the right direction, offering a friendly though tightly-scripted and templated approach to Southern Maryland community relations…complete with all requisite multi-generational and local connections to environmental causes, St. Mary’s college alumni and the token “local waterman” interests – i.e. a long-time Maryland Bay Pilot and family, and Mr. Lore, Chesapeake Fresh Oyster’s landlord in Ridge, and the long-time owner of the Airedele road peninsula properties and its oyster harvesting rights (now somewhat distributed among newer riparian owners).
Chesapeake Fresh Oysters, with newly-registered Internet domains under “Save the Oyster Foundation, Inc.” (savetheoyster.org), appears to reflect varied Baltimore-based investment interests including Ray Jackson of Stonewall Capital and Fred Cheek of Shamrock Recycling.
Many questions and concerns remain to be answered following the session, from availability of local water quality data and questions about commercial tax status to riparian rights easements and shoreline cleanup, but it appears the permit approval process will likely move forward without more significant hurdles. So, the jury’s in session now on this great idea and much-needed boost to the Maryland oystering industry and ecological preservation interests – but very sensitive local community relations investment.