A rendering of the 20,000 square foot hatchery, courtesy of Ferry Cove Shellfish.

One of East Coast’s Largest Commercial Oyster Hatcheries Breaks Ground in Md.

Construction is underway on a new, privately-held oyster hatchery just north of Tilghman Island, and it will become of the East Coast’s largest when it opens next spring.

Ferry Cove Shellfish will operate in Sherwood, Talbot County in a 20,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility. Ferry Cove will produce Eastern oysters to support the growing mid-Atlantic demand for shellfish. Leaders say the region’s supply of oyster larvae and seed just can’t keep up with growing demand.

The slab ready to be poured in early November. Photo: Ferry Cove Shellfish/Facebook

“One of the barriers to growth that quickly emerged as we evaluated the aquaculture market was the availability of larvae and seed to support the shellfish industry,” said Stephan Abel, president and CEO of Ferry Cove Shellfish. “We want to grow the segment while, at the same time, preserving the culture and history of the iconic oyster fishery.”

Ferry Cove says it will used “advanced hatchery production techniques” including a recirculating aquaculture system, green building design and energy efficient facility. To extend larvae production beyond the current April-to-September season, the hatchery will have equipment for algal production, water filtration, and seawater heating. Backup systems will ensure operations aren’t interrupted during events like tropical storms, low salinity, and periods of poor water quality.

Research and planning for the hatchery and its systems have been underway for several years. Site work finally began this summer, and Ferry Cove’s most recent photos show the foundation ready to be poured.

The Sherwood hatchery’s 20,000 square feet don’t quite measure up to the state-run Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery, a little further south in Cambridge. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Horn Point Laboratory hatchery encompasses 36,000 total indoor and outdoor square feet. But Horn Point’s larvae production is split between commercial aquaculture and oyster restoration. In 2020, just over half went to public or private aquaculture, since restoration activities were hampered by COVID-19, hatchery Director Stephanie Tobash tells Bay Bulletin.

While Horn Point is the largest existing oyster larvae seller, Maryland oyster farmers can currently buy from Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture Center, Phillips Whard, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Piney Point Oyster Hatchery, as well as hatcheries in Virginia.

Ferry Cove promises to provide the industry with high-quality, low-cost larvae and seed, responding to the growing numbers of oyster farms and hatchery-produced shellfish in the region.

-Meg Walburn Viviano