The program, known as RI-OGRE ... works by enlisting community volunteers, such as homeowners with docks and boat owners with mooring balls, to provide a secure temporary home for ﬂoating cages of baby oysters. The oyster ﬂoats, 3 feet by 4 feet wide, contain mesh bags with seed oysters that, when sufficiently large, can be planted around the bay. Oyster gardening seeks to restore water quality and permit oyster populations to become self-sustaining. There is no intent to harvest what is grown.
"Oysters have tremendous filter feeding capacities and they improve the water quality by filtering between 50 and 60 gallons of water a day," said Steve Patterson, the shellfish field manager at Roger Williams University, which operates the Narragansett Bay gardening program. "Oysters are a keystone species in estuaries in that they also provide habitat for creatures like silversides, mummichog and baby crabs that make up the beginning of the estuary food webs," he said.
Apparently it's been going on in New York:
The NY/NJ Baykeeper gardening program has been operating since 2000.
There, gardened oysters are planted on reef restoration sites in order to provide spawning adult oysters according to Christine M. Lynn, oyster program assistant with the Baykeeper program. But concerns about a potential health threat if gardened oysters are sold commercially have also become an issue in New Jersey, she said. "I think the oyster gardening programs in South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina are far ahead of us in terms of acceptance from regulators, but this is mostly because they still have relatively pristine waters to work in," Lynn said.
Since its inception around Narragansett Bay, oyster gardening has benefitted the environment and should be encouraged said Dale Leavitt, associate professor of marine biology at Roger Williams University.
"It's certainly obvious that the services the oysters provide make it worth putting them out there," he said. "As far as the disease issues that caused the demise of oysters in the first place, we're cleaning a lot of that stuff up now so there's a good chance for success in re-establishing these ecosystems they way they used to be. And there's a lot of value to that."
From a regulatory standpoint, the main obstacle remains the potential human health risk, Leavitt said.