What it takes to be an oyster farmer

Johnny Oysterseed holds up some oysters.

Kevin McClarren stands near oysters in cages, which float on the mild brine of Chesapeake Bay.

Oysters in cages float on the mild brine of Chesapeake Bay.

TEXT OF STORY

BILL RADKE: Oyster harvesting is still banned in most of the waters off Louisiana, thanks to the BP oil leak. And what's bad in Louisiana might be good news in Maryland.

Reporter Cathy Duchamp tells us about the rise of aquaculture in Chesapeake Bay.


CATHY DUCHAMP: Many wanna-be oyster farmers already have a relationship with the mollusk. Take this guy, who calls himself Johnny Oysterseed.

JOHNNY OYSTERSEED: This is the oyster nursery, so this is one way we get oysters started in an aquaculture sense.

Johnny Oysterseed, aka John Farrington, grows baby oysters in this super-sized jacuzzi next to a creek that feeds Chesapeake Bay. His customers are conservation types who use the bivalves to filter pollution out of the water. Soon, Farrington hopes to grow oysters for food, and sell them to restaurants and packing houses.

OYSTERSEED: If we develop an industry around aquaculture we can have millions of bushels of harvest. I think the potential is really that big.

The state of Maryland is getting ready to lease 600,000 acres of Chesapeake Bay bottom to people like Farrington. It's part of a plan to rebuild an oyster population that is 1 percent of what it was 100 years ago. The strategy: encourage aquaculture, and discourage the harvest of wild oysters. But oyster farming is not for the faint of heart.

KEVIN MCCLARREN: It's hard work and the drudgery, and the heat and the sun. And in the winter it's the cold and the ice and the westerly winds.

Kevin McClarren runs the ChopTank Oyster Company. He grows 8 million oysters in cages that float on the mild brine of Chesapeake Bay. McClarren says selling oysters is the toughest part of the business.

MCCLARREN: We gp up into Philadelphia, D.C., shucking events. Anything that's related to chefs and restaurants.

McClarren says he's not afraid of new competition. And Johnny Oysterseed is not afraid of hard work. He says he'll camp on the doorstep of state offices on September 7th, to be the first in line to apply for an oyster lease.

In St. Leonard, Md., I'm Cathy Duchamp for Marketplace.

Kevin McClarren stands near oysters in cages, which float on the mild brine of Chesapeake Bay.

Oysters in cages float on the mild brine of Chesapeake Bay.

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