| May/June 1984

Max Chambers: Oyster Farmer 

Max Chambers decided to get into the oyster business because a marine scientist told him that it would be financially rewarding. Although Max soon discovered that putting the idea into action wasn't a simple matter, he persisted . . . and today Chambers is one of only 50 individuals in the country who operate successful oyster hatcheries.

Each spring-at his bayside hatchery near Nanticoke, Maryland-Max puts adult oysters into large tanks whose water is heated to a "summer" temperature. The oysters remain there for about a month, feeding on algae supplied by Chambers. In late April, about three months ahead of their natural schedule, the mollusks spawn. The microscopic young oysters, called spat, are then moved to another tank, which contains strong net bags filled with oyster shells. The spat soon attach themselves to the shells and grow. Chambers then places the nets on pallets that are submerged in Chesapeake Bay, and nature takes over.

Last season the marine specialist started with 100 adult oysters . . . and produced 3-1/2 million spat. Max believes that by using commercial methods, he and his fellow watermen could grow 1,000 bushels of the shellfish per acre of Chesapeake bottom. He's found, however, that his colleagues aren't interested in oyster farms. "I guess they fear that their way of life would be turned into factory work," he says. Still, Chambers dreams of a time when oysters will be massproduced in the bay. ("Despite pollution," he notes, "there is a lot of clean water left in Chesapeake Bay.") His goal is to have the expensive gourmet item transformed into a lowcost source of protein.

Chambers realized some time ago that he could have made money more easily in another occupation. But along the way, oyster farming came to mean far more to him than just a way of earning a living.

—Jack Wennersten.

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