It may come as a surprise to some chefs and gourmands alike, but it turns out that the homely, hard, rough gray apparel of Crassostrea virginica is recyclable.
Yes, oyster shells can be worn again.
The Oyster Recovery Partnership announced Thursday it has launched a program to recycle the empty shells, giving them to hatcheries to use as the base for growing baby oysters.
Shells now are being collected from some 20 restaurants, caterers and seafood wholesalers in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington. The network is growing quickly, and groups holding oyster roasts are invited to take part, too.
So far, over the past 18 months, the Oyster Recovery Partnership has collected 3,000 bushels of shell.
“With the state hatchery expanding its facilities to be capable of producing up to 2 billion oysters per year, we will require nearly 200,000 bushels of shell annually,” reports the Partnership.
Every year more than 100,000 bushels of oysters are harvested from Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Most are shucked inside the handful of shucking houses that remain in Maryland. The Department of Natural Resources purchases the shell and stores it in depots for aging before use.
But some oysters are sold for the half-shell market, boxed and shipped to restaurants around the bay area. That’s what’s being targeted by the Partnership.
It’s considered a critical mission because the oyster is a keystone species in the Chesapeake, cleaning it by filtering algae from the water. One oyster, which has a lifespan of ten-plus years, can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Once there were so many oysters the entire bay was filtered in days. Now there are so few it takes over a year.
The Partnership’s closest point to Chestertown for collecting old shells is W.H. Harris Seafood on Kent Narrows Way in Grasonville. Those interested in joining the recycling project are asked to sign up at www.oysterrecovery.org or phone 410-990-4970.