New Oyster Reef Below Bill Burton Fishing Pier Completed, Dedicated
300 concrete balls will be home to baby oysters; reef expected to boost fishing success from nearby pier
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finished construction Saturday of an artificial oyster reef alongside the Bill Burton Fishing Pier adjacent to the Fredrick C. Malkus Bridge. The completion of the reef in the Choptank River was celebrated on the pier by a crowd of fishermen, families, and State, city and other officials.
Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley and Delegate Addie Eckardt were on hand to dedicate the reef. The mayor thanked the organizations and volunteers and added, “In order to continue our legacy, we must remember that we need to save the bay. This is an opportunity to show that by sharing a vision and focus, we can get so much done.”
“This reef is an example of what it will take to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. It’s all about cooperation. Work together and we all benefit. This reef will help clean the water of the Choptank, and also boost fishing for the local community,” said Alan Girard, director of the CBF Eastern Shore Office.
The reef was created by placing a total of 300 concrete “reef balls” on the bottom of the Choptank, immediately alongside the fishing pier. The two foot-tall igloo-like reef balls were built by volunteers at CBF’s Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland (ORC) or by volunteers from the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association (WSSA). All 300 were “set” with baby oysters (spat) by submerging them in large tanks of Bay water at ORC and adding millions of oyster larvae spawned at the University of Maryland hatchery at the Horn Point Laboratory near Cambridge.
Patricia Campbell, CBF’s specially designed oyster restoration boat, deployed the reef balls throughout the summer, and placed the remaining 60 in the river today as the public looked on from the pier. Following the reef ball placement, the crew of Patricia Campbell overplanted them with one million “spat-on-shell” oysters produced at ORC.
The reef balls act as an artificial structure upon which oysters, mussels, barnacles and other benthic organisms can attach. Oyster shells are the normal substrate to which these species attach, but shells are in short supply. The three-dimensional artificial reef also serves a habitat for fish like striped bass, sea bass and croaker and for crustaceans like blue crabs, mud crabs and grass shrimp.
“This should help the fishing community experience good fishing, particularly with oyster spat. It’s available to the public. You don’t need a boat to fish it,” said Clint Waters, President of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishing Association, Dorchester Chapter.
The Bill Burton reef will be one of the most accessible oyster and fish reefs on the Eastern Shore. That was evident today as fishermen cast their lines from the pier onto the reef. With the help of MSSA volunteers, DNR and MARI are tracking the number of fish caught in the area both before and after the reef’s construction to document the reef’s benefits as fish habitat.
The dedication celebration from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the pier included fishing demonstrations, opportunities for the public to add oysters to the reef, guess-the-number-of-oyster-spat sponsored by the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, and hotdogs by Easton Ruritan.
“Fishing is important to many generations of Marylanders, and habitat-building projects like this one help keep that viable,” said Stephanie Westby, a restoration specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA). NOAA provided funding for the reef through its partnership with Restore America’s Estuaries.
Bill Burton was an outdoor writer for more than five decades for the Baltimore Sun. WMAR, and the Bay Weekly. Commissioned by one governor as “the Admiral of the Chesapeake,” he was inducted into the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association. In 1986 Mr. Burton used his column to lobby for the old bridge across the Choptank to be saved, and remain a fishing pier. The structure was named in his honor just prior to his death in 2009.