Sandy Can't Spoil Md. Holiday Tradition


WASHINGTON—If there is any silver lining to the mayhem caused by superstorm Sandy, it's this:

Maryland's oysters, and the delicious holiday stuffing they make, are safe to eat.

Concerns loomed as millions of gallons of raw sewage leaked from the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant into the Little Patuxent River, and water poured from the Conowingo Dam into the Susquehanna River. But sources say this has had little impact on the fragile oyster population.

"This was a one-time event," said Tom Zolper, Maryland communications coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "What seems to be more damaging is steady runoff. I wouldn't want to go swimming for a week or two, but the oysters will be fine."

The oyster has had a long, storied history in the Chesapeake Bay. What was once an abundant population was brought to near-eradication from the Bay—but the oysters have rebounded through diligent efforts of municipalities and environmental interest groups.

"The good news for oysters is that we're seeing some of the best mortality rates," said Zolper, "which is an enormous success story."

The oyster survival rate was 92 percent in 2011.

The dry year has mitigated the amount of fresh water that leeches from the Bay's tributaries, diluting the brackish water downstream where oysters live. This water also carries silt, which can smother oysters; and nutrients from runoff, which can lead to hypoxic dead zones.

"Fortunately, Sandy happened in a dry year," said Bill Goldsborough, Chesapeake Bay Foundation's fisheries director. "A wet year, plus Sandy, may have been a problem."

Although raw sewage is obviously harmful to the Bay's delicate ecosystem, the spillage from the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant was easily diluted by the Susquehanna River, said Mark Miller, press secretary for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

But besides volume, location also played a vital role.

"In terms of sewage outflow, the areas affected are not the areas with oysters," said Steve Vilnit, the fisheries marketing director for Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The Maryland Department of the Environment "tested the water, which was fine."

With health concerns abated, Marylanders can feel at ease when preparing holiday meals. After all, what is a Maryland Thanksgiving without turkey filled with oyster stuffing?

Have you recently migrated to the area, or are you just a marooned landlubber? In any case, you might need this skipjack oyster recipe, courtesy of the Maryland Office of Tourism, to celebrate the holidays—Maryland style:


-- 2 large stalks celery
-- 1 medium onion
-- 1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine or butter
-- 1 teaspoon salt
-- 1/2 teaspoon lemon and pepper seasoning
-- 1/8 teaspoon mace
-- 1/8 teaspoon tarragon
-- 1/8 teaspoon poultry seasoning
-- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
-- 1 pint shucked Maryland oysters, with liquor
-- 8 slices day old bread, cubed

Finely chop celery and onions. Sauté in margarine or butter until tender. Mix in seasonings. Add oysters with liquor and simmer until edges of oysters just begin to curl. Remove from heat and gently mix in bread cubes. Adjust moistness with water as desired. Makes about 4 cups dressing (allow about ½ cup per pound for fish; 1 cup per pound for poultry).

Note: For an extra special tangy taste, core and finely chop 2 medium apples and add with celery and onions when cooking. Yield will increase about ½ cup.

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