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By CLARA VAUGHN
BALTIMORE -- Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is as simple as going out to eat, at least from Oct. 6 - 13.
During the second annual From the Bay, For the Bay promotion, participating restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington will donate $1 for every seafood dish served to fund oyster restoration projects.
The program, headed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Oyster Recovery Partnership, raised more than $25,000 in 2011, allowing the group to plant more than three million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
This year, around 150 restaurants are joining the event.
"Everybody likes to eat," said oyster shucker George Hastings. "If you can couple up informing people about the bay and what oysters do for the bay with eating, I think it's a win-win."
Hastings was one of around 350 to attend the "From the Bay" launch party Wednesday night at the annual Mermaid's Kiss Oyster Fest at Baltimore's National Aquarium.
Sen. Ben Cardin appeared at the event, calling the Chesapeake Bay the "largest, most important estuary in our hemisphere."
"The Chesapeake Bay is in trouble because of too much nitrogen, too much phosphorus, too many pollutants entering the bay," Cardin said.
A thriving oyster population could help ease these problems.
"If you have an acre of solid, live oyster reef, it will filter about 3,000 pounds of nitrogen out of the bay each year," said Bob Driscoll, chairman of the Oyster Recovery Partnership's Board of Directors. "Oysters are the natural filter of the bay."
Oysters also provide habitat for other marine life, like blue crabs and striped bass.
The owner of Hollywood Oyster Company Tal Petty said each of his oyster cages has created a "microenvironment" on what was once sandy bottom.
"Now there are more fish, more crabs," Petty said. "That's really exciting."
Many individuals and organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are working toward restoring oyster populations in the bay. Three in particular were recognized with awards at Wednesday's Oyster Fest: Ryleigh's Oyster, a Baltimore restaurant, for its shell recycling program and outreach initiatives; Oyster Recovery Partnership volunteer and retired engineer Randy Neilson, for his work in improving practices for oyster restoration in the field; and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Horn Point Hatchery for its research into oyster restoration.
The From the Bay, For the Bay program helps educate people about the seafood they eat and raises awareness about oyster recovery, Neilson said, "and all you have to do is eat oysters."
The Oyster Recovery Partnership works with the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery, Maryland Watermen's Association, Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, among other groups, in its oyster restoration projects.
For a list of restaurants participating in From the Bay, For the Bay week, visit http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fromthebay/.