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Pines oyster gardening group keeps harvest levels growing

By Greg Ellison

(Oct. 8, 2020) Since starting an oyster gardening campaign in 2014 to reduce pollutants in the St. Martin River, Joe and Gail Jankowski have witnessed the program grow and now hope to establish productive oyster beds in the region.

Joe Jankowski, who helped found the Protectors of the St. Martin River volunteer group, updated the Ocean Pines Environment and Natural Assets Committee about water conservation efforts last Wednesday.

Jankowski told the committee Maryland Coastal Bays Program Science Coordinator Dr. Roman Jesien and Environmental Scientist Carly Toulan have been consulted about their efforts to create oyster bars in the St. Martin River so the filter feeders can help reduce pollution in the estuary.

“When I spoke to Roman Jesien, I said ‘if the oysters aren’t reproducing in your reef, then ultimately they’re going to reach their end of life and die,’” he said. “There’s got to be baby oysters growing there in order for the thing to keep surviving or we keep dumping more oysters on there and we’re doing it sort of unnaturally.”

Oysters reproduce when fertilized eggs become spat that attach themselves to other shells or rocks. Under the proper conditions, the spat can grow rapidly.

Jankowski said what further complicates establishing reef systems is that the tides can carry these spat a considerable distance from their point of origin.

Jankowski, who has been building oyster cages at cost for interested parties as part of the conservation campaign, has considered building an oyster reef under his dock at his Ocean Pines residence but is still researching design details.

“I’m a little nervous about trying to do that,” he said.

Regardless of how well this expanded effort works, Jankowski said the last six months of increased media coverage of the oyster gardening program has generated more interest.

“One of the things I’m going to try and do . . . is try and accelerate building cages,” he said. “There are now 13 additional people that want to raise oysters off their dock.”

That would nearly double the 15 volunteers already involved, which are primarily comprised of residents within the St. Martin River watershed.

In 2018, the Ocean Pines oyster gardeners donated 344 mature oysters that to the Maryland Coastal Bays Program to compliment its reef project.

Oysters reaching diameters of three inches can filter around 50 gallons of water daily.

Volunteers drop their oyster nursey cages off docks and bulkheads and keep them a year or more until the seed oysters are large enough to transfer to other locations.

Oyster harvests from the volunteer group jumped to 960 by 2019, with 16 more cages requested for the following season.

“It was all word of mouth,” he said.

This June the annual haul sent to the Coastal Bays Program grew to roughly 1,600, with nine new cage requests growing the overall number in the water to 33.

“Now as result of news coverage, there are 13 more people that want 17 more cages,” he said.

“We’ll be probably donating somewhere around 2,500 oysters to the Maryland Coastal Bays in 2021.”

To learn more about oyster gardening, email Joe and Gail Jankowski at