Debunking the Myth of Oyster Reefs

In the 2018 Maryland Assembly general session I testified regarding SB 926. A law that, among other things, identified oyster shell as the preferred substance to be used to create oyster reefs. The supporters of the bill were on point and on message. According to the supporters, oyster shell is the best material for healthy oyster reefs. They had a good idea, that oyster reef criteria are necessary, unfortunately their choice of material is based on a persistent myth.

There is a myth that oyster shell is the best and only substrate for oyster reefs.  There is no science to support this and in fact the opposite has been proven. Researchers from the US and around the world have studied reefs made of many different substrates. These researchers (and I was one of them) consistently find that these alternative substrates perform as well — and sometimes better — then reefs made from oyster shell.

This myth may have evolved from the findings that oyster larvae have a higher set rate shell than other substrates. Research has shown that oysters will set on almost anything hard.  They set at a higher rate on oyster shell.

But this is just the first day of an oyster’s life. When we look at these reefs over time though oysters shell may start off with a higher number of oysters, these number equalize over time. The results of long term data show that reefs sampled 3, 5, and 15 years after being set show no difference between shell and other materials.

I know that debunking a myth is hard, but the science has proven that there is no difference between oyster shell and other materials when creating a healthy oyster reef. When dealing with the Chesapeake Bay we cannot go forward with what we believe, what we’ve always known, or what we hold dear. We must base our decision on what we can prove is in the best interest of the Bay.

More information on the research regarding alternate material can be found here .

Regionally Based Hatchery

A key element of our plan is the ability to secure a long-term lease of Piney Point Aquaculture Center, a profitable operating hatchery here in Maryland.


Currently run by Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, the agency has approached Open Shell, through its relationship with Morgan State University to take over the management and operation of this facility.


Founded by Dr. Kelton Clark PhD and Peter Ettinger, OpenShell’s mission is to create sustainable growth of the shellfish aquaculture industry.

Open Shell is focused on creating sustainable growth in the shellfish aquaculture industry through our ability to identify and implement market-based solutions to industry challenges. We provide infrastructure and production support that removes bottlenecks to production and growth.

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While starting out in Maryland, Open Shell will change a national and international industry, creating sustainable growth of the oyster shellfish aquaculture business.

OpenShell’s Partners include:

  • True Aquafarms
  • True Chesapeake
  • Oysters Inc.
  • Morgan State University
  • College of Southern Maryland




License, Own, and Introduce Impactful Intellectual Property

Open Shell’s strengths rest in our ability to create and exclusively license significant intellectual property that will change the productivity of the shellfish aquaculture industry.

OpenShell is developing focused technological solutions that:

  • Address mortality and morbidity of product,
  • Expand the sales of seed and larvae through the introduction of micro-hatcheries, and
  • improve broodstock lines.

Long-term Planning

One Million Oysters a Week

Shellfish aquaculture in Maryland is relatively small and assorted. It tends to act in terms of a collection of businesses as opposed to an industry. To become an industry, it faces challenges from such varied sources as social opposition, problematic leasing and permitting systems, and stakeholder conflicts.oyster4

The solution starts with the question:  What would it take to get to one million oysters a week? We apply that question to the entire system identifying bottlenecks that constrain growth. OpenShell then develops a matrix of ordered solutions based on those challenges.