Private Oyster Farming has Helped the Chesapeake Bay. Not Everyone is Happy About the Practice.

ST. MARY’S COUNTY, Md. — No oyster could thrive on the muddy and sandy bottom of St. Jerome Creek, but there they are. Inside submerged metal cages, millions of the shellfish form portable reefs that are teeming with crabs, minnowlike fish and other life.

From a work boat, oyster farmer Ryan Brown pulls up a cage marked with a yellow buoy, an indication that its inhabitants will soon be 2 years old. They look plump and healthy, with deep, cupped shells. And later this year, some of them will leave St. Mary’s County waters to be served at raw bars in wide-ranging places including Baltimore, Chicago and Atlanta.

A decade ago, Maryland politicians rewrote laws that allow True Chesapeake Oyster Co. and other business ventures to use public waterways for private gain — and for the benefit of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem at large. Since then, the number of oysters farmed in Maryland waters has grown more than 20 times over, equaling about one-third the haul of wild oysters watermen dredge up annually.

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