A natural oyster bed in Lynhaven Inlet, off of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. A new nutrient trading program for oyster farmers could benefit growers and help restore water-cleaning oyster beds. Shutterstock image.

MD - Can shellfish growers cash in with nutrient trading?

Maryland and Virginia are exploring new ways to offset pollution from development, but not everyone is buying it

Like many folks new to aquaculture, Johnny Shockley is a former commercial fisherman who wanted to continue working on the water. And, like many newcomers to oyster farming, he sees his new vocation not just as a job, but as a way to keep the waters he works on healthy and clean.

Even if some of the oysters he grows aren’t intended for restaurants.

Shockley and his filter-feeding bivalves are on the forefront of new nutrient-credit trading programs in Virginia and Maryland that proponents say will clean up waterways, particularly the once-oyster-rich Chesapeake Bay. In short it works like this: Property developers seeking a way to offset assumed runoffs from new projects pay oyster farmers like Shockley to stock the waters with oysters that fulfill the water-cleansing tasks. It’s an idea that’s worked in wastewater management and energy.

Shockley is a founding partner at Hooper Island Oyster Co. and sees “nutrient credit trading as a market-based approach to clean water and develop a scaled-up oyster industry that provides an enormous amount of protein,” he said. “The model is intended to be able to satisfy everyone’s vision of what the oyster is meant to be.”

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