2022 ANNUAL REPORT Oyster Recovery Partnership

Oyster Supporters,

The 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Agreement set goals for Bay clean-up, including reestablishing oyster populations in five Maryland Tributaries. We recently learned that a number of the goals will not be met by the 2025 deadline. I’m proud to say that Maryland’s oyster restoration goals are on track.

The work we are doing is restoring and enhancing the Bay's oyster populations. In 2022, we planted 950 million oysters, completed the St. Mary's River sanctuary reef restoration (the fourth of five rivers identified for restoration as part of Maryland's Bay clean-up strategy), and passed the milestone of planting 10 billion oysters since we started almost three decades ago.

Thirty years ago was the low point for Chesapeake oyster populations; most of the Bay's oyster reefs were ravaged by disease and habitat degradation. Today, our monitoring shows, the picture is quite different, with thousands of acres of rebuilt oyster reefs teeming with marine life – crabs, shrimp, and fish of all shapes and sizes. ORP and our many partners - the state and federal governments, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, businesses, foundations, and thousands of individuals like you - worked together to make this happen.

Looking ahead, our tasks are great and clear: fulfill Maryland's commitment to the Chesapeake Watershed Agreement by completing sanctuary reef restoration in the Manokin River, continue our work to rebuild the public oyster fishery, support the fast-growing oyster aquaculture industry, recycle oyster shells for reuse on new reefs, and engage the public with hands-on, meaningful ways to support Maryland’s ambitious oyster agenda.

Much remains to be done to realize our dreams of a healthy Chesapeake Bay. I invite you to review this annual report and consider ways that you can help: make a donation to ORP to continue planting oysters at a scale that will make a difference for the Bay, eat Maryland oysters and make sure the shells are recycled, volunteer to build oyster cages – or grow oysters at your dock, and tell your friends why oyster restoration is important to you.

10 billion oysters

A milestone for restoration, in August 2022 we planted the 10 billionth oyster in the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, along with our restoration partners and watermen, led a ceremonial planting on a public oyster reef south of Kent Narrows, highlighting the environmental and economic value of one of the Bay’s keystone species.

Planting 10 billion oysters is no small feat. It was achieved through cooperative partnerships, innovative science, and public support for Bay preservation. Planting the first 10 billion oysters took three decades, but the pace dramatically increased over the last ten years with more than 5 billion deployed. We aim to plant another 10 billion in the decade to come. Please consider a gift to continue this important work.

Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, and ORP Executive Director Ward Slacum, ceremonially plant the 10 billionth oyster.


Oyster Sanctuaries

The 2022 planting season concluded with nearly 750 million oysters planted in sanctuaries in seven Maryland waterways (the Little Choptank, Tred Avon, St. Mary's, Manokin, Severn and Nanticoke Rivers, plus the Eastern Bay). We completed restoration work in the St. Mary's River oyster sanctuary, the fourth of five tributaries identified by Maryland under the 2014 Chesapeake Bay agreement.

ORP's coastal scientists and summer intern groundtruthing for future reef plantings in the Manokin River.

ORP’s long-term monitoring efforts continued in 2022. We surveyed 350 acres of Bay bottom to identify areas for future restoration. The program also documented thriving three and six-year-old reefs providing evidence that restoration goals are being met.

We could not do this important work without the help of our restoration partners, including the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory, NOAA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as with the assistance and expertise of Maryland Watermen.

Severn River

30 million spat-on-shell found their new homes at the mouth of the Severn River this summer thanks to overwhelming support for Operation Build-a-Reef! An ongoing effort now in its fourth year, Build-a-Reef has resulted in the planting of over 115 million oysters on sanctuary reefs in the Severn. Build-a-Reef: Severn River is a partnership between ORP, the Severn River Association and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Eastern Bay

With the goal to plant 100 million oysters by the end of 2023, Build-a-Reef expanded into Eastern Bay this year thanks to a partnership with ShoreRivers. The campaign is on track with 75 million oysters planted thanks to funding provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Next year, donations from the public will plant the remaining 25 million.

Special thanks to Build-a-Reef’s title sponsor, Smyth Jewelers, as well as Horn Point Laboratory for supplying the oyster larvae.

Photo credit: Severn River Association

The Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program engages more than 2,000 volunteers to nurture young oysters during their most vulnerable first year of life. In 2022, MGO distributed 5,600 cages filled with an estimated 4.5 million spat-on-shell to coordinators in 30 tributaries. Next summer, these oysters will be collected and planted on sanctuaries within community waterways.

Special thanks is due to the many partners and volunteers who helped build 750+ cages for this year’s MGO program.

Guinness' sales team incorporated a cage building volunteering activity into their annual meeting in September.

Oyster Best Management Practices

ORP leads the EPA Oyster Best Management Practice (BMP) Expert Panel examining the nutrient reduction capabilities of large-scale oyster restoration projects. The Panel expects to present its findings for public and EPA review in 2023, setting the stage for oyster restoration to be recognized as an EPA Best Management Practice. Approving oyster restoration as a BMP will significantly expand Maryland’s ability to offset nutrient runoff and satisfy the ambitious Bay clean-up mandates.

ORP’s leadership of the BMP Expert Panel has brought scientists and other stakeholders together to define the precise levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that oysters remove from the Chesapeake Bay. Once again, oysters are proving to be one of the most effective and efficient tools Maryland has to meet its 2025 Bay restoration targets.


ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance collects free of charge from collection sites and hundreds of restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic, making it the largest oyster shell recycling network in the nation. This year, over 26,000 bushels of shell have been recycled from nearly 170 participating restaurants and 70 public dropsites. Since the Alliance's launch in 2010, ORP has reclaimed 279,383 bushels of shell, equivalent to 9,780 tons kept out of area landfills.

As you enjoy oysters at Shell Recycling Alliance member restaurants or at home, know that you are contributing to Bay restoration and a healthy oyster population.

Supporting the Public Fishery

ORP worked closely with Maryland’s 11 county oyster committees to enhance public fishery reefs and ensure their continued success for years to come. These repletion efforts, largely funded by industry through per-bushel surcharges paid by watermen, resulted in more than 155,000 bushels of shell and 219 million spat-on-shell going on public reefs in 2022.

This program relies on the support and expertise of Maryland watermen whose knowledge and work boats make it possible.

Photo credit: Jay Fleming

Sustainable Fishery

In 2022, we maintained Maryland's electronic harvest reporting Fishing Activity & Catch Tracking System (FACTS)™ system and completed two E-reporting pilot projects for the for-hire charter and shellfish fisheries. The charter pilot ended September 30 with 9,299 trips reported in 2022 and more than 36,832 trips reported in total across the three years of the pilot. The shellfish pilot (oyster and clam harvest) ended November 30 with 2,046 trips reported in 2022 and more than 2,848 trips reported in total across the two years of the pilot.

To support Maryland's growing aquaculture industry, ORP is partnering with oyster farmers to develop an aquaculture precision farm management tool. This year we gathered information from industry members to better understand farmers' needs to inform application development. Development of the app is expected to begin in 2023.

Derelict Gear Removal

In March, ORP assisted Baltimore County to remove lost fishing gear from the Patapsco River. A model of cross-sector partnership to achieve positive environmental and economic benefits, the project employed 14 watermen crews to reclaim over 2,000 'ghost pots' with the purpose of enhancing the blue crab fishery. Special thanks to Versar, Inc. for their sidescan sonar mapping support in the effort.

partnerships and outreach

ORP's new annual event, World is Your Oyster Fest (WIYO), was a huge success! The passion for Bay oyster restoration was palpable. In just four hours, over 5,000 oysters were consumed, and we collected 19 bushels of shell, which means guests will help plant nearly 100,000 oysters next year! Thanks are due to WIYO host Nick Schaumann from The Local Oyster for keeping us entertained, Senator Van Hollen who shared his inspiring oyster restoration vision, Oysters XO for teaching Baltimore how to Shuck Like a Pro, the oyster farmers who brought their bivalve bounties, the restaurants (and distributors) that served delicious bites, the beverage companies that kept things lively, the shuckers who competed for a chance at the US National Competition, the vendors that sold wares, the bands who rocked, and to the guests who attended!

Special thanks to major sponsors Flywheel DigitalMaryland’s Best Seafood, Adirondack Tree Experts, and MOMs Organic Market. Buckhead Meat & Seafood and JJ McDonnell also donated seafood in-kind.

Save the Date for WIYO 2023 happening on Thursday, September 28!

The biggest impediment to eating oysters at home is understanding how to safely shuck them. That’s why ORP developed Shuck Like a Pro, a fun, hands-on learning event where an expert shares knowledge and tricks of the trade to empower people to eat more oysters! ORP held nine events this year, resulting in more than 645 newly-minted shuckers.

Find the next Shuck Like a Pro near you.

National Oyster Weekend

2022’s National Oyster Day was observed across an entire weekend! It was a seafood lovers' celebration that encouraged the public to get out and eat oysters at Shell Recycling Alliance member restaurants. ORP relies on these Bay-friendly businesses to provide shell for restoration efforts. 45 restaurants participated and served oysters fresh, fried, grilled, and more! The seafood lovers’ holiday received official recognition from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and attracted widespread media coverage throughout the DMV. Special thanks to Maryland's Best Seafood for sponsoring National Oyster Weekend.

Maryland's Best Seafood

Governor Hogan samples Maryland farm raised oysters from True Chesapeake Oyster CoOrchard Point Oyster Co. and Salt Buoys from Fallen Pine Oyster Farm

Nearly 100 paddlers participated in the 2022 Bay Paddle, a two-day, 45-mile race designed to increase appreciation and protection for the Chesapeake Bay. Competitors including a team of teachers from Anne Arundel County Public Schools, a group of veterans from the Valhalla Sailing Project, all of the Bay RiverKeepers, internationals, professionals, soloers, and more.

Since 2020, Bay Paddle has raised nearly $380,000 for ORP, Chesapeake Conservancy, and WaterKeepers Chesapeake.

Special thanks to sponsors: Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Pacifico, and Ørsted.

Photo Credit: 410 Films

Partnership is Essential

ORP is one of many allies collaboratively working to help restore oysters to the Chesapeake Bay. Our partners are key drivers of and contributors to this important work. Many have already been recognized in this report.

We would also like to thank the following for their support:  Annapolis Compost, Black Eyed Susan Spice Company, Bumble Bee Seafoods, Chesapeake Coffee Roasters, Distinguished Vineyard Wine Partners, Federal Hill Eyecare, Flying Dog, George's Beverage Co., Guinness Open Gate Brewery, Old Bay Vodka, Pearl Vodka, and Proud Pour.