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Close cropped view of a man man wearing orange chest waders shucking oysters. He has a large tattoo of a clump of mature oysters on his bicep visible beneath the sleeve of his red tshirt.
Aquaculture and Restoration Oyster grower Scott Budden of Orchard Point Oysters shucks an oyster. Orchard Point Oysters is one of nearly 20 MD aquaculture operations participating in the SOAR program. © Severn Smith / TNC

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SOAR Program Celebrates Milestone

With help from Maryland oyster growers, TNC's SOAR program has planted more than 1.25 million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay since winter 2020.

The Nature Conservancy announced today that its Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration program (SOAR) has planted more than 1.25 million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay since it kicked off in the winter of 2020.

The program purchased oysters from 26 Maryland growers that were left with excess stock due to declining demand from restaurants during the pandemic, and then replanted them on sanctuary reefs in Eastern Bay, the Nanticoke River, and St. Mary’s River. The Nature Conservancy established the national program in partnership with Pew Charitable Trusts. The effort in Maryland would not have been possible without support from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, University of Maryland Extension, and the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

“Not only did the SOAR program give us a much needed cash infusion, just as importantly it freed up space and equipment for the next generation of oysters,” said Choptank Oyster Company General Manager Kevin McClarren. “We depend on sales to make room on the lease and Covid put a stop to that. In the near future, continuing the program will help clear up a glut of oysters on the market. We’ll have two years of production to contend with driving prices down.”

“We’re truly grateful to the donors that helped the SOAR program support growers in our region during such a difficult time for the industry, while also helping restore several of the Chesapeake Bay’s critical sanctuary reefs,” said Tim Purinton, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Maryland and D.C. “We hope this program can serve as a model for a new market for growers to continue selling their product while also supporting Bay restoration efforts.”

We hope this program can serve as a model for a new market for growers to continue selling their product while also supporting Bay restoration efforts.

Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Maryland and DC

Nearly 1/3 of the national SOAR program’s funding went to purchases from Maryland growers around the Chesapeake Bay and resulted in the enhancement of 17 acres of oyster reefs at three different sanctuary locations.  Nationally, the SOAR program has so far purchased more than 3.5 million oysters from 125 growers in the mid-Atlantic, New England, and Washington State. 

This week, The Nature Conservancy also announced the recipients of the recently established Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund, which was created in partnership with Pew, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), state management agencies, and shellfish growers’ associations. The fund will award $1 million in grants to 37 projects across 16 coastal U.S. states to support initiatives that encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion in the shellfish industry; diversify products and marketing streams; encourage grower participation in marine conservation efforts; and enhance sustainability of farming operations.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.