The Maryland Department of Natural Resources submitted an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department of the Environment to dredge buried oyster shells from the upper Bay at Man O’ War Shoals. The site is located in Baltimore County in the bay outside the mouth of the Patapsco River. The purpose of the project is to obtain buried oysters shells which will be used to enhance oyster habitat in other parts of the bay.
In the interest of increasing transparency and ensuring opportunity for constituent input, the following background information regarding the project is provided within this website.
Oyster shells and alternate materials that offer hard substrate are a vital component to restore and replenish oyster bars in both sanctuaries and harvest areas. Oyster shells are the natural material that comprise oyster bars and are the habitat on which oyster larvae attach to become new oysters called spat. Adding shell to oyster bars enhances the quality of habitat and may increase the oyster population in areas where oyster recruitment is suitable. Studies indicate that oyster populations decline and efforts to restore population falter when there is a lack of or even sparse amount of shell on the Bay bottom. In addition to shells, alternate materials that offer hard substrate can be used to obtain a spat set and restore habitat.
Historically, oyster restoration and replenishment activities used shells from oyster shucking houses and from the dredging of buried beds of oyster shells in the Bay bottom. Shucked shells (fresh shells) were always important but not abundant enough to supply the quantities needed, therefore the dredge shell program was initiated in 1960 to greatly increase the supply of shells. In 2006, the program ended when the existing dredging permit expired. Then in 2009, the Maryland legislature passed HB103 which required the department to apply for a new shell dredging permit by July 1, 2009. The department worked with the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission to identify an area to dredge for oyster shells in the Bay and to develop a dredging operational procedure. On July 1, 2009, the department submitted an application to dredge Man O' War Shoals in the upper Bay.
The purpose of dredging this location is to obtain large amounts of buried shell which will be used in a variety of oyster restoration and replenishment projects. This site was selected because it has the most significant deposit of buried shell (estimated 86 to 103 million bushels, Maryland Geological Survey) compared to other sites considered and does not occur within a striped bass spawning reach. The permit application initially expressed the department's intent to ultimately remove approximately 30% of the available shell (about 30 million bushels) for oyster projects. In response to stakeholders' concerns about the potential ecological effects of a shell dredging project of this magnitude, the department requested a limited 5-year permit to dredge 5 million bushels of shell as part of a comprehensive monitoring project to assess the ecological consequences of removing shell from the shoal.
Upon initial review of the permit application, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded that there wasn't sufficient information to justify the purpose and need for this project. And, as such, the permit application would likely be rejected. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressed concern that viable options may exist for oyster substrate that should be explored before undertaking a project that may permanently impact Man O' War Shoals. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested an alternate materials analysis. Hence, the permit application was put on hold.
The Department followed the advice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and explored alternative shell and non-shell materials over the course of a few years. Fossil shell from Florida was used in restoring oyster bars along with clam shell and granite. The department also worked with the County Oyster Committees to identify areas where previously planted oyster shell could be recovered under current permits and placed on public fishery bottom. As a result of these efforts, in 2012, the department and the industry reclaimed approximately 413,000 bushels of previously planted oyster shells which were planted on active public oyster bars. At the completion of the 2012 shell reclamation project, it became clear that larger volumes of shells or alternative substrate were needed and this approach was very limited in what it could offer in the future. In 2015, the department proceeded to update the permit application and re-submitted the permit application.
The detailed Attachment 1 within the permit application was revised in 2017 and the new version is named
REVISED 2/13/17 Attachment 1
. The map (on page 4) in Attachment 1 was revised in 2018. The updated map isn't shown in the 2017 Attachment 1, but is shown in the file below named
Man O' War Revised Final Plan
. This map is the current map for the project.
In 2018, a
for shell dredging was granted by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pending issuance of a Maryland Department of the Environment Water Quality Certification. Maryland’s Board of Public Works will need to approve the Water Quality Certification prior to the permit becoming final.
In 2023, through an Executive Order by Governor Moore, the
Shell and Substrate Task Force
was created. The Task Force will: (1) Identify strategies and solutions to retain shell, increase abundance and create an overall additive situation for oyster substrate across the Chesapeake Bay; (2) Evaluate strategies based on the ability to meet the demand from the public fishery, aquaculture industry and restoration component in the near term and focusing on meeting needs for the growth of all three components; and (3) Evaluate the economic impacts substrate has on the State and develop recommendations that take into consideration costs and benefits for the fishery. The Task Force is discussing shell dredging broadly and the Man O’ War Shoal permit specifically and will provide a recommendation to the department.