NANTICOKE, Md. — More than 30 Perdue Inc. associates and family members joined residents of Nanticoke, Md., the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance on Oct. 1 to participate in the Marylanders Grow Oysters program for the third straight year.

Oysters are critical to the Bay’s long-term recovery. According to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, oysters used to filter the entire Chesapeake Bay in days. Due to past overharvesting, it now takes years.

Approximately 80 volunteers filled and distributed more than 200 cages of “spat” (175,000 baby oysters), which the 24 Nanticoke volunteer families will foster for the next nine months. The cages will be suspended from their privately owned piers along the lower portion of the Nanticoke River until next summer when they will be planted in local sanctuaries.

“Perdue’s long-term commitment to the Marylanders Grow Oysters program is having a measureable impact,” said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership. “The hundreds of volunteers that have participated over the last three years recognize that the Chesapeake Bay’s recovery will only occur through citizen engagement.”

The Oyster Recovery Partnership also transported a truckload of recycled oyster shells to the site, where volunteers filled more than 400 nylon bags with empty shells. The bags are needed for the oyster hatchery production and will help provide a home for about 1 million oysters. Young larvae will attach themselves to the clean oyster shells at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Hatchery in Cambridge, where they are produced. The resulting bags of spat on shell will be used for the 2012-13 season of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program.

Perdue has been working hand-in-hand with the Oyster Recovery Partnership since 2009. In August, more than 50 Perdue associates and family members teamed with the ORP to fill more than 800 shell bags in the parking lot of the Perdue corporate Office in Salisbury, Md.

“This is our third year partnering with the ORP for community-based conservation initiatives, and each year I am amazed by the outpouring of support,” said Chad Clem, Perdue’s project coordinator for the Oyster Recovery volunteer effort. “It is especially gratifying to work on a project like this when I know that Perdue is so strongly committed to the environment and the health of the bay.”