VIRGINIA (WRIC) — When you order oysters at Lemaire in Richmond, not only are you supporting Virginia’s oyster growers but helping restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Lemaire is one of over 50 restaurants that are part of the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP).

According to VOSRP’s website, participating restaurants store empty shells in sealed containers. These containers are then picked up on a regular basis by volunteers. The oysters are then aged and placed in seeding tanks. Baby oysters, also known as “spat,” attach themselves to the shells, which are then returned to the bay.

This process helps restore wild oyster populations and as a result, improves water quality and provides new fish habitat.

“It feels really good to recycle oysters. Knowing that all of the oysters that we are using, we are able to recycle that shell and grow new oysters for others to enjoy,” Patrick Willis the Executive Chef at Lemaire told 8News.

Todd Janeski, program director of VOSRP, said what makes oysters that come from the Chesapeake Bay tasty is that it’s an estuary — the meeting place of the salty ocean and the rivers that vary in salinity.

“That allows us to have a flavor profile that is geographically distinct and within that distinctiveness, there are eight different geographies that have been identified, we call them flavor regions,” Janeski said.

Farmers also grow oysters using recycled shells, much in the same way that they are being grown to help restore the Chesapeake Bay, explained Brandon Eanes, field manager of 3 Hands Oysters.

3 Hands Oysters is a local oyster farmer that is located at Gwynn’s Island. They grow oysters that are a little less salty or briny.

“We are starting [oyster larve] from something about the size of a number two pencil point and growing them to something that is three and a 1/2 inches, in 12 to 18 months. They spend their whole life cycle in a cage and they get finished out in a floating cage,” Eanes said.

Lemaire currently serves 3 Hands Oysters. Bon Appetit!