2023 ANNUAL REPORT Oyster Recovery Partnership

Oyster Supporters,

This has been a remarkable year for Chesapeake Bay oysters and, as 2023 comes to a close, we reflect on our record-breaking efforts to restore the Chesapeake’s native oyster population, a key component of Maryland’s Bay recovery plan.

In 2023, we planted 1.5 billion juvenile oysters on hundreds of acres of sanctuary and public reefs. We continued to make progress on the state's commitment to restore oysters in five Bay tributaries by 2025. In addition, this year:

  • ORP planted 450 million oysters on public oyster grounds to help support Maryland’s commercial watermen.
  • ORP recycled its 300,000th bushel of oyster shells from Shell Recycling Alliance members.
  • Oyster restoration was officially recognized by the EPA as a “Best Management Practice” because of their ability to remove harmful nutrients from water.

Governor Wes Moore and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz joined ORP in celebrating our most successful year in our nearly 30-year history. Governor Moore highlighted the invaluable partnership of watermen, scientists, nonprofits, and state and federal government officials contributing to this remarkable milestone. We could not agree more.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to the thousands of individuals, businesses, fellow nonprofits, and community leaders who believe in the power of the mighty oyster. Your support for our work is invaluable. Next year is our 30th anniversary and we ask that you please consider an end-of-year donation as an investment in a cleaner, oyster-filled Chesapeake Bay.


Oyster Sanctuaries

The 2023 planting season concluded with 1.07 billion oysters planted on 274 acres of sanctuary reefs in eight Maryland waterways (the Manokin, Little Choptank, Tred Avon, Severn, South and Magothy Rivers, plus Herring Bay and Eastern Bay). We focused our efforts on seeding the Manokin River oyster sanctuary, the fifth of five tributaries identified by Maryland under the 2014 Chesapeake Bay agreement. With the goal to be completed in 2025, the Manokin River sanctuary will be the largest human-constructed reef in the world.


ORP continued to assess oyster restoration success in 2023. Monitoring results are used to adaptively manage the reefs and inform future restoration needs. Our data suggest that reefs are thriving and restoration goals are being met.

In September, ORP's coastal scientists began post-restoration monitoring in the St. Mary's River. This clump indicates that there are some beautiful-looking oysters out there!

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 the assistance and expertise of Maryland Watermen.

Photo credit: Magothy River Association

Public Reef Replenishment

ORP was proud to support eleven Maryland counties in maintaining our public oyster grounds this year. Altogether, 450 million spat-on-shell, 4,000 bushels of oyster seed and over 114,000 bushels of shell were planted in the interest of a healthy fishery and bountiful oyster harvest.

Special thanks to Bevans Oyster Company, Cowarts Seafood, and many private Chesapeake Bay oyster hatcheries for contributing resources to this effort.

Photo credit: Jay Fleming

Resilient Reefs Community Program

New in 2023, the Resilient Reefs Community Program combines two established community-based oyster restoration programs, Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) and Operation Build-A-Reef (BAR), under one umbrella to create synergy and efficiency - and engage, educate, and empower you to get involved!

Marylanders Grow Oysters

The Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program engages 2,000 volunteers to nurture young oysters during their most vulnerable first year of life. Those volunteers planted the approximately 4 million oysters they cared for in late spring and summer into 30 Chesapeake Bay tributaries!

Special thanks is due to partners and volunteers who helped build 750+ cages for this year’s MGO program, including Perdue, Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Chesapeake Coastal Service, Horn Point Lab, Vectorworks, Collins Aerospace, ShoreRivers, Baygrass, and Easton Utilities.

Operation Build-a-Reef

This summer, 15 million spat-on-shell were planted in the Severn River in partnership with the Severn River Association.

18 million spat-on-shell were planted in Eastern Bay, in partnership with ShoreRivers.

65,000 spat-on-shell were planted in Herring Bay, in partnership with the Advocates for Herring Bay.

Special thanks to Build-a-Reef’s title sponsor, Smyth Jewelers, Horn Point Laboratory for supplying oyster larvae for the program, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources for supportive funding.

Photo credit: ShoreRivers

ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance collects oyster shells free of charge from hundreds of restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic and public drop sites, making it the largest oyster shell recycling network in the nation. This year, more than 30,000 bushels of shell have been recycled from nearly 170 participating restaurants and 70 public drop sites. Since the Alliance's launch in 2010, ORP has reclaimed 300,000 bushels of shell, equivalent to 10,000+ tons kept out of area landfills.

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

In response to the oyster shell shortage, two new drop sites were added this year in Baltimore and Worcester Counties. Special thanks to each county’s Department of Public Works for their leadership on this critical issue.

Oyster Best Management Practice

ORP leads the EPA Oyster Best Management Practice (BMP) Expert Panel examining the nutrient reduction capabilities of large-scale oyster restoration projects. The Panel presented its findings for public and EPA review in early 2023, and the EPA approved the oyster BMP this summer. The oyster restoration BMP significantly expands Maryland and Virginia's ability to offset nutrient runoff and satisfy the ambitious Bay clean-up mandates.


Electronic Harvest Reporting

In 2023, ORP maintained Maryland's electronic harvest reporting Fishing Activity & Catch Tracking System (FACTS) system and expanded user support capacity. ORP also secured funding to incorporate additional reporting capabilities for commercial seafood dealers into FACTS.

Photo credit: Jay Fleming


In 2023, ORP conducted habitat surveys on aquaculture leases through a new project funded by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Maps of individual leases were created to guide planning and planting activities conducted by leaseholders to optimize oyster production.

Derelict Gear Removal

In March, ORP partnered with Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability and local watermen to remove lost fishing gear from Baltimore County waters. A model of cross-sector partnership to achieve positive environmental and economic benefits, the project employed 15 watermen to reclaim 1,300 ‘ghost pots’ and other fishing debris to enhance the blue crab fishery. Special thanks to Versar, Inc. for their sidescan sonar mapping and logistical support in the effort.

partnerships and outreach

World is Your Oyster Fest, the Bay's best bivalve bash, returned this September with more than 500 guests, 14 oyster purveyors, 15 restaurants, 15 beverage companies, and 14 vendors all in celebration of ORP's work! Guests shucked, slurped, and savored 12,000 oysters. The evening's highlight, the shucking competition, saw two competitors tie for first place: Francisco Lopez of The Walrus Oyster and Ale House and Dan Worrell of Fallen Pine Oyster Company. Supportive remarks from Maryland Agriculture Secretary Kevin Atticks and Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz brought cheers from the crowd.

Special thanks to major sponsors Flywheel Digital, Constellation Energy, Maryland’s Best Seafood, and Tito's Handmade Vodka. Wittman Wharf Seafood and JJ McDonnell donated seafood in-kind. WIYO is unequivocally blessed with the one-of-a-kind hosting talent of Mr. Nick Schaumann, The Local Oyster. 

Save the Date for WIYO 2024 happening on Thursday, September 26!

National Oyster Week

National Oyster Day happens annually on August 5, but one day to appreciate oysters is just not enough... That's why this year in Maryland the celebration lasted for an entire week! The seafood lovers' holiday is all about eating oysters at Shell Recycling Alliance member restaurants. ORP relies on these Bay-friendly businesses to provide shells for restoration efforts. 55 restaurants participated, serving oysters fresh, fried, grilled, and more! The holiday received official recognition from Maryland Governor Wes Moore and attracted widespread media coverage throughout the DMV. Special thanks to Maryland's Best Seafood and Jim and Janice Perdue for sponsoring National Oyster Week!

Maryland's Best Seafood

Department of Agriculture Secretary Kevin Atticks presents Governor Moore's Maryland Oyster Week Proclamation live on television at Phillips Seafood restaurant in Baltimore.

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, Baygrass, Bay PaddleBlack Eyed Susan Spice Company, Bumble Bee Seafoods, Chesapeake Coffee Roasters, Distinguished VineyardsFederal Hill Eyecare, Flying Dog, George's Beverage Co., Guinness Open Gate Brewery, Jefferson's Bourbon, Kim HovellOld Bay VodkaProud Pour, and QG Charities.