Ice on the Bay Poses Danger to Boaters, Oyster Harvest

Breaking ice on Back Creek in Annapolis. Photo: Joe Evans

We’re finally beginning to get out from under a deep freeze in the Chesapeake region—one that shut down the Bay’s entrance, prompted Coast Guard warnings, and sent ice breaker ships out to free up major waterways.

Isolated islands like Tangier and Smith were forced to rely on government help to get needed supplies.

And watermen and oyster farmers faced major obstacles even reaching their harvest. Scott Budden, owner of the Orchard Point Oyster Co.  on the Chester River, says his operation has been hindered by thick ice, and the blow-out tides that came with Winter Storm Grayson.

Budden tells Bay Bulletin, “We broke ice last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. And we were finally able to harvest on Wednesday. But it wasn’t easy: a 20-minute trip to the lease took three hours.”

The Chester froze most of the way across with temperatures at Orchard Point’s lease sitting around 31 degrees.

So far, Budden says, he’s lost a small quantity of seed oysters that were exposed by the low tide at the company’s nursery site. But since the tide went out last week, he hasn’t been able to get back to the lease. He’s waiting to find out if there have been any oyster mortality, either from the tide or from ice chunks dragging and flipping oyster cages. The ice breaking up as things thaw out is actually more dangerous for oysters than being trapped under the ice.