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On The Coast: Turning A Love Of Life On The Water Into A Job

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The effort to bring oysters back for the coastal economy is a labor of love for John Apple.
Bryan Russo/WAMU
The effort to bring oysters back for the coastal economy is a labor of love for John Apple.

One hundred years ago, oysters were a big business on the coast, especially on George's Island, near Stockton, Md. But after the famous 1933 hurricane that created the Ocean City inlet, the seafood industry, and particularly the oyster farming trade, rapidly declined.

There were 15 oyster packing houses that were essentially destroyed during the storm, many of which were never rebuilt.

But now, there is a lone boat harvesting oysters out on these chilly but pristine waterways of the Maryland coastal bays. The waterman manning that boat is John Apple with the Bay Landing Shellfish Company.  He says oysters "put this spot on the map."

"I knew it would be a good spot to do something like this — to try to bring back that old seafood industry," says Apple.

"The startup is, you know, pretty hard. You've got to put a lot of money out; you don't have too much coming in. You've got to deal with the elements. You've got to be ready for anything," Apple says. "And really it's just the way you customize your business to fit the environment around you will make it that much easier on yourself. And then being able to see the reward afterwards just gives you that much more motivation. And so far we're seeing a reward — it's just taking a little bit longer than we would have liked to."

Apple says that last August he was awarded a two acre lease on which to grow and harvest oysters in the coastal bays.

"So this morning we came down just to check on everything after all the ice and all," Apple says. "There are different forms of oyster farming aquaculture. You know, some [watermen] resort to floats on the surface of the water. We resorted to racks that are on the bottom. So when you do have ice, you know forming along the surface, that doesn't impact the oyster too much, just because they're under water. But if they are subjected to freezing temperatures, to ice, they become frozen oysters, and they're no good anymore." 

Apple says the cold winter weather has meant he hasn't been able to provide as many oysters for his customers, though he recently did put on a wet suit and get some.

"We've braved it a couple times. And it's cold man, it's cold."

"Sea of Love" by Tom Waits from Brawlers / "A Fistful of Oysters" by The Zydepunks from And the Streets Will Flow With Whiskey


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