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    An Easy Shell
    By ALLISON BOURG Staff Writer
    Published 12/03/08

    Baby oysters are bobbing in the water behind some homes on Bodkin Creek, part of a neighborhood effort to clean up the Magothy River.

    Seven Pasadena residents banded together and purchased oyster floats from the Circle C Oyster Ranchers Association in St. Mary's County. The floats contain 600 oysters each and are expected to filter up to 99,000 gallons of water a day, said Eric Lusby, a Pinehurst resident.

    "Our goal is to help do what we can to clean up our creek and our waters," Mr. Lusby said.

    He's lived along Bodkin Creek for 22 years, and said the water has gotten dirtier over the years. Oysters are a natural water filter, but overharvesting and diseases have taken a toll on the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population.

    "It's very murky, dark brown, and you can't really see the bottom," Mr. Lusby said. "So we wanted to help change that."

    "I'm kind of hoping that by just having them on the pier, people going by on boats will notice them and ask about them," said Bonnie Miller, Mr. Lusby's sister.

    She and other residents decided to install the floats after Mr. Lusby's next door neighbor, Harun Kazaz, read a newspaper article about them. Until then, they didn't really know it was an option, Mr. Lusby said.

    A little research brought them to Richard Pelz, owner of the Circle C.

    Mr. Pelz, who co-founded the Chesapeake Oysters Guild several years ago with fellow oyster grower Andrew Murdza of Pasadena, has designed floating oyster reefs for about two decades. The Japanese have used that method of growing oysters since 1917.

    His floats are about 3-by-6 feet, with three mesh bags containing 200 oysters each. Each homeowner received three floats for $500, a cost subsidized by a tax credit from the state.

    "I think it is genius," Mr. Kazaz said of the tax credit, adding it gives property owners an extra incentive to install the floats.

    The Bethesda resident has a second home on Bodkin Creek and said he never really appreciated the Chesapeake Bay until he moved to the water three years ago. Then he started thinking about water quality.

    "I hope a lot of people hear about these floats and want to put them in," he said. "There's strength in numbers."

    Oyster growers traditionally plant the bivalves on reefs at the bottom of the water.

    Yet at least half of all spat, or baby oysters, planted on reefs die.

    Growers such as Mr. Pelz and Mr. Murdza, the founder of Oyster King 1 Inc., believe the answer is growing oysters at the top of the water column. That's where oxygen and nutrient contents are highest, and so oysters are more likely to survive, they say.

    "It is the scientifically sound way (to grow oysters)," Mr. Pelz said.

    He points to Little Kingston Creek in St. Mary's County as an example. In the 1980s, five homes along the 9-acre creek put floats in the creek's brown water, which had no grasses, crabs and few fish.

    Within three years, it was a completely different creek.

    "We had two crabbers out there in each of two boats, twice a day," Mr. Pelz said. "They must have been catching something, because they had grins on their faces."

    Oyster King's Oyster Hotel is similar to Circle C's brand of floats. It includes a cage filled with barley straw, a contaminant filter, and a mesh bag to protect the oysters from other creatures. Mr. Murdza also charges $500 to install the floats, and his technicians visit them four times a year to monitor the oysters' growth. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's oyster gardening program follows similar logic. Residents in the program pay $75 to grow spat in cages alongside their docks. After nine months, the adult oysters are planted on sanctuary reefs, where they have a better chance of surviving than if they were taken immediately from a hatchery and planted, the foundation says.

    This is the first time Mr. Pelz has installed floats in Pasadena, though he says the demand for them keeps growing all over the state.

    "The requests have doubled since last year, and with the way the economy is, that says something," he said. "We're thinking it could double again next year. There are already people signing up for delivery next spring."

    ---

    To get your own oyster float, contact Mr. Pelz at 301-872-4177 or 301-872-4177, or e-mail rich@oysterranching.com. To get an Oyster Hotel, call 410-255-1492 or e-mail info@oysterking1.com or sales@oysterking1.com.

    To take advantage of the state tax credit for 2008, residents have to purchase a float by the end of the year.

    ---

    Copyright 2008 The Maryland Gazette and Capital Gazette Communications, Inc.

    Copyright 2008 Capital Gazette Communications, Inc., Annapolis MD USA

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