According to the results of a survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), oyster abundance has increased in state waters for the second consecutive year and more of the bivalves are withstanding pressures from pollution and disease.
The 2012 Fall Oyster Survey, which has monitored the status of the state’s oyster population since 1939, found a 93 percent oyster survival rate—the highest since 1985—and a lower-than-average prevalence of MSX and dermo, two diseases that have decimated the Chesapeake Bay’s native oysters in recent decades.
In a news release, DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell attributed these successes to the establishment of oyster sanctuaries, which are closed to harvest and which could allow oysters to build up a natural disease resistance.
Maryland is currently restoring oyster reefs in the Harris Creek and Little Choptank River sanctuaries, as part of a federally mandated effort to restore oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025.
Read more about the 2012 Fall Oyster Survey results.
Harris Creek is a tributary of the Choptank River. Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the waterway has been thrust into the spotlight as the first target of the oyster restoration goals set forth in the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order: to restore oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025. Existing reefs will be studied, bars will be built, larvae will be raised and spat-on-shell will be planted in this federally mandated attempt to boost populations of the native bivalve.
Already home to productive and protected oyster reefs, Harris Creek’s good water quality and moderate salinity should allow for high rates of reproduction and low rates of disease—both critical factors in ensuring oyster survival. Indeed, natural “spat set,” or the settling of wild oysters on reefs, was observed in Harris Creek last year, and continued natural spat set could reduce the number of hatchery-raised oysters that are needed to complete the restoration plan.
Over the past two centuries, oyster populations across the Bay have experienced a dramatic decline. Habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll, and populations now stand at less than one percent of historic levels. But as filters of water and builders of reef habitat, oysters are critical to the health of the Bay.
As of December 2012, reef construction and seeding for more than a quarter of Harris Creek’s 377 targeted acres were complete, and partners project that more than half of the construction and seeding for the rest of the creek’s reefs will be complete by the fall of 2013.
But it will take a lot for a reef and a tributary to be deemed “restored.” Partners will look not just for the presence of oysters, but for the expansion of oyster populations in the years following restoration efforts. The goal is an ambitious one, but many believe the Harris Creek project will serve as a model for the restoration of other tributaries in support of the Executive Order goal.
Video produced by Steve Droter.
On private piers up and down Harris Creek, hundreds of metal cages hang from ropes into blue-green water. Inside each cage are countless little oysters, which will grow here, safe from predators and sediment, during their first nine months of life. Once the spat are large enough, they will be pulled out of their short-term shelters and put onto boats to be replanted on protected reefs just a few short miles away.
The cages—along with the bivalves inside them—are cared for by volunteers with the Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO) program, itself a local branch of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program that is managed by the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC).
Now in its second season, TIGO has recruited more than 80 volunteers across the so-called “Bay Hundred” region—from Bozman and Neavitt to Wittman and Tilghman Island—to further oyster restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.
Over the past two centuries, native oyster populations have experienced a dramatic decline, as habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll. But programs like this one give hatchery-grown oysters a head start before they are put into the Bay to replenish critical underwater reefs.
The TIGO program has attracted a wide range of restoration enthusiasts, from the middle-school student who has tracked her oysters’ growth for a science fair project to the neighbors who have competed against each other to grow more and bigger oysters. The main draw? What little effort is involved.
“Growing oysters is an effort, but it’s a really easy effort,” said TIGO coordinator Carol McCollough. “And we remove as many of the roadblocks as we possibly can for people who want to do this.”
Aside from a promise to keep cages free of excess sand and silt, the program doesn’t ask too much of its volunteers—and this has worked to its advantage.
H. Truitt Sunderland is a Wittman resident whose cages are filling up fast after six months of growth. The oysters have gone from mere millimeters to one and two inches in size, and a host of other critters—like grass shrimp and gobies, mud crabs and skillet fish—have taken up residence on this makeshift reef just as they would do on oyster bars in the Bay.
Sunderland’s home sits on Cummings Creek, and Sunderland has used the ease of the work involved—“I don’t even know how they can call this volunteer work,” he laughed—to involve his neighbors. Now, there are 24 cages on 12 piers in this single stretch of water.
Tilghman Island resident and fellow volunteer Steve Bender has had a similar experience. “The process is simple,” Bender said, standing on a wooden pier that juts into Blackwalnut Cove. “It’s not that demanding. It’s not that difficult to care for [the oysters].” And in response to his encouragement, Bender’s neighbors have been “glad” to join.
While projects like this one are a small drop in the restoration bucket, McCullough hopes that TIGO can cast a personal light on conservation for all those who are involved.
“We [at PWEC] inform, inspire and involve,” McCullough said. “We’re all about getting people to commit to [changes in] behaviors. It’s very easy to give money. It’s less easy to write letters. And I think in many ways, it’s even less easy to do something personal—to do restoration work on your own.”
But for McCullough, it’s possible that the simple act of caring for a cage of oysters could act as a stepping stone toward further involvement in the Bay.
“Oysters have become very exciting to people,” McCullough said. “They recognize that every single additional oyster in the Bay is a positive thing. That oyster restoration is something that’s bigger than they are.”
For more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Photos by Multimedia Coordinator Steve Droter.
On a winter morning in Annapolis, Md., a snow-covered truck pulls into the parking lot of a local seafood restaurant. A man in white boots and rubber gloves steps out of the cab, a metal door swings open behind the building and plastic trash cans full of oyster shells are exchanged between restaurant chef and shell recycler.
The trade is just one stop on a route that connects the 130 members of the Shell Recycling Alliance: a group of restaurants, caterers and seafood wholesalers that save their unneeded shells—some in five-gallon buckets, some in 14-gallon trash cans, some in 55-gallon wheeled bins—for pick up by Tommy Price.
Price is a Special Programs Specialist with the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a conservation group that has for two decades worked to restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. As a driver in the partnership’s fleet of trucks—which are complete with shell recycling logos and oyster-themed license plates—Price has watched the Shell Recycling Alliance grow, generating more than 1,000 tons of shell that are an integral piece in the oyster restoration puzzle.
Sent to an environmental research lab and oyster hatchery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the shells are cured, power-washed and put to work as settling material for the billions of oyster larvae that are planted to replenish reefs across the Bay.
Over the past two centuries, native oyster populations have experienced a dramatic decline as habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll. But by filtering water, forming aquatic reefs and feeding countless watershed residents, the bivalves have become an essential part of the Bay’s environment and economy.
It is this link between businesses and the Bay that inspired Boatyard Bar and Grill to sign on to the Shell Recycling Alliance.
“The Bay is a huge economic engine for this area,” said restaurant owner Dick Franyo. “Look at what we do here—it’s all about fishing, sailing, ‘Save the Bay.’ It’s where we come from. It’s what we think about.”
Franyo, who sits on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s board of trustees, has upheld a conservation ethic in much of what his restaurant does. It donates at least one percent of its annual revenue to environmental organizations; it composts all of its food waste; it recycles oyster shells alongside glass, metal and plastic; and it spreads the word about the restoration efforts that still need to be made.
All Shell Recycling Alliance members are given brochures, table tents and “Zagat”-style window stickers to use as tools of engagement, teaching customers and clientele about the importance of saving shell.
“Shell is a vital ingredient in oyster restoration,” said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership. “It’s like flour in bread.”
Indeed, it has become such a valuable resource that a bill has been proposed that would give individuals and businesses a $1 tax credit for each bushel of shell recycled.
“The Bay, restoration and oysters—it’s all one story,” Abel said. And without oyster shells, the story would be incomplete.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to express gratitude for the good in life. We have much to be thankful for—and so does the Chesapeake Bay! Here is a look at six moments from the past year that signaled good news for the watershed.
6. A sustainable blue crab population. The most recent report on the Bay’s blue crab stock reveals a population that has reached sustainable levels and is not overfished. Winter estimates place the adult female blue crab population at 97 million, based on a dredge survey taken at almost 1,500 sites throughout the Bay. The survey also measured more juveniles than have been counted in the past two decades. A stable blue crab population means a more stable Bay economy, with watermen employed, restaurants stocked and recreational crabbers (and crab-eaters!) happy.
Image courtesy Erickson Smith/Flickr
5. Additional American eels. American eel numbers are up in the headwater streams of Shenandoah National Park, following the removal of a large dam that once blocked eels from moving upstream. Other anadromous swimmers like shad, herring and striped bass—which must migrate from the ocean into rivers to spawn—are also using this reopened habitat. Our rivers are thankful to see the return of these important residents.
4. A huge boost in oyster restoration. This year, restoration partners in Maryland put more than 600 million oyster spat into the Chesapeake Bay in the largest targeted restoration effort the watershed has ever seen. While some of the oyster larvae went into the Upper Bay, most went into Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River that was declared an oyster sanctuary in 2010. While habitat loss, disease and historic overfishing have contributed to a dramatic decline in native oyster populations, planting “spat on shell” onto harvest-safe sanctuaries is one way to bring the water-filtering bivalves back.
3. A lot of living shorelines. When shorelines wash away, fish, crabs and other wildlife lose valuable habitat, and coastal landowners lose their lawns. To curb shoreline erosion, coastal property owners are turning toward living shorelines, which replace hardened bulkhead and riprap with grasses and trees. This summer, the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Living Shorelines program awarded $800,000 to 16 homeowner associations, non-profit organizations and towns to install more than 6,800 feet of living shoreline and wetland habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
2. Greater green infrastructure. With the implementation of green infrastructure, cities can use the natural environment to better manage stormwater runoff. Green roofs, rain gardens and pervious pavement, for instance, can absorb stormwater runoff before it flows into local rivers and streams. This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) awarded $4 million to local governments for green infrastructure projects. But the environment is not the only one who will be thankful; green infrastructure can revitalize communities and produce cost benefits that can exceed those of traditional stormwater management methods. We are grateful that more towns will be greener in both color and concept!
1. Long-term improvements in Bay health. A number of Bay monitoring sites have shown long-term improvements in nutrient and sediment levels. According to an August report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), one-third of monitoring sites have shown improvement in sediment concentrations since 1985, two-thirds have shown improvement in nitrogen concentrations and almost all have shown improvement in phosphorous concentrations. These improvements in long-term trends indicate pollution-reduction efforts—from upgrades to wastewater treatment plants to cuts in fertilizer use on farms and suburban lawns—are working.
Restoration partners in Maryland have put more than 600 million oyster spat into the Chesapeake Bay in the largest targeted restoration effort the watershed has ever seen.
While habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have contributed to a dramatic decline in native oyster populations, the peculiar bivalves that filter water, form aquatic reefs and feed countless watershed residents are critical to the Bay’s environment and economy.
According to a report from the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a portion of the 634 million oyster larvae that partners planted in 2012 went into the Upper Bay, where last year an influx of fresh water from spring rains and late-summer storms led to widespread oyster death.
But most of the “spat on shell”—or young oysters “set” onto large oyster shells—went into Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River that was declared an oyster sanctuary in 2010. There, partners hope to restore 360 acres of oyster reef, constructing new reefs and seeding this habitat with spat; close to one-third of this goal has been planted so far.
To fuel restoration efforts, the Horn Point Laboratory Oyster Hatchery produced a record-breaking 880 million spat in 2012, marking the fifth year in a row that spat production has exceeded half a billion. The largest hatchery on the (east coast), the Cambridge, Md., lab produces disease-free oyster larvae for use in research, restoration, education and aquaculture.
Horn Point Laboratory will host an open house on Saturday, October 13.
Kelley Cox knows what it takes to bring fresh seafood to the table—and to keep fisheries thriving in the Chesapeake Bay. Cox is part of a family of watermen that has worked for five generations out of Tilghman Island, Md. When Hurricane Isabelle destroyed 200 feet of their seafood buying dock in 2003, Cox did not want her heritage to be destroyed with it. She envisioned a place where she could preserve her family's legacy while teaching the public to steward the environment and the Bay. Two years later, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) was born.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Named after Cox's father, Garland Phillips, owner and operator of Phillips Wharf Seafood, PWEC now hosts educational programs and tours of the Bay. The center also coordinates a tree planting project and oyster growing program for residents of the three-mile long Tilghman Island. A marine biologist by profession but a waterman by blood, Cox makes sure the center’s educational efforts address both Bay ecology and Bay heritage.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Mobile Marine Fun
From preschoolers to third-graders, students can hold horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins or play predator, prey and pollution games to better understand how the Bay ecosystem works—all on board a converted school bus better known as the Fishmobile. This traveling marine science center visits schools, summer camps and even birthday parties! Other educational programs at PWEC allow students to race crabs, dress up as a waterman and cruise the Choptank River and the Bay to watch watermen work.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
If you have residential or commercial waterfront property or keep your boat in a marina on Tilghman Island, you can volunteer for Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO)! Participants place PWEC-provided cages of oyster spat into the water and give them a shake once every week or two. After nine or 10 months, the growing oysters are transported to a sanctuary and replaced with new spat. The program has placed 200 cages in the water, but PWEC won’t stop until every pier on the island is growing spat.
Ecology cruises allow participants to see Tilghman Island in a new light—from the water! Excursions for local artists allow participants to paint or draw the island from an evening ride aboard the Express Royale.
More of the Chesapeake Bay’s baby oysters appear to be surviving threats from pollution and disease, according to new data from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The 2011 Fall Oyster Survey shows a 92 percent survival rate, the highest figure since 1985.
“This is more than double the survival rate in 2002, when record disease levels killed off 58 percent of the population,” DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell said. “The overall biomass index — which measures population health by volume — is also up 44 percent over last year. Not only did these baby oysters thrive under ideal growing conditions, this year we also found a new, high spatset in high-salinity areas such as the Tangier Sound.”
High flows from heavy rain storms last spring and late summer affected oysters above the Bay Bridge; however, that represents a relatively small part of the total oyster population. The lower salinities that resulted from higher freshwater flows actually proved beneficial to the majority of Maryland’s oysters because less-salty water keeps diseases at bay.
The survival rate is the percentage of oysters found alive in a sample. Sampling took place at 263 oyster bars in the Bay and its tributaries over two months last fall. Maryland’s oyster survey is one of the longest running resource monitoring programs in the world; the state has been keeping track of oyster population survival, reproduction and disease levels since 1939.
In another positive bit of news, scientists at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory report that the frequency and intensity of the oyster diseases MSX and Dermo are low. Both of these once-devastating diseases now occur at the lowest levels on record.
For more information about the oyster survey, visit Maryland DNR’s website.
This is the fourth year the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s oyster hatchery has produced more than 500 million disease-free baby oysters, called spat. The Oyster Recovery Partnership works with the university, as well as the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other partners to collect and plant oysters in the Bay and its rivers.
The Oyster Recovery Partnership also processed more than 70,000 bushels of oyster shell in 2011. About 10,000 bushels were collected through the Shell Recycling Alliance, a program that takes used oyster shells from more than 100 restaurants, caterers and seafood distributors in the region. Baby oysters must attach themselves to other oysters to grow and survive, so it’s critical to collect as many used oyster shells as possible to reuse in oyster reef restoration efforts. The Shell Recycling Alliance now provides 15 percent of the oyster shells Maryland needs for its restoration efforts.
Visit the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s website to learn more about the group’s oyster restoration efforts.
A new study by researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science recommends that Maryland place a moratorium on commercial oyster harvest from the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the study, Maryland’s oyster population is only 0.3 percent of what it was at its peak in the late 1800s. The population decline is due to a number of factors, including disease, pollution and overfishing.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have placed 306 reef balls planted with millions of baby oysters in the Choptank River near Cooks Point.
Reef balls are three-dimensional structures that provide habitat for oysters and other aquatic organisms, including worms, mussels, striped bass and black sea bass. Reef ball plantings help restore oyster populations and promote thriving aquatic reef communities. Many reef-dependent species have not been seen in the Choptank River for many years.
Visit Maryland DNR’s website to learn more about the agency’s artificial reef initiative.
The number of baby oysters in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay is at its highest level since 1997, and more young oysters appears to be surviving the effects of diseases, according to a recently completed survey by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Since 1939, Maryland has monitored the status of the oyster population through annual field surveys. The surveys track three critical components of the oyster population: reproduction levels, disease infection levels and annual mortality rates.
The two-month 2010 fall population assessment covered 260 oyster bars and 399 samples throughout the Bay and its rivers. Scientists found 80 baby oysters (called spat) per bushel; about five times the 25-year average of 16.
The increased spat set is an immediate asset to Maryland’s expanded sanctuary program,” said DNR Fisheries Director Tom O.Connell. These protected oysters will grow and reproduce, contributing more oysters to the Bay's sanctuary and surrounding aquaculture and public fishery areas, and providing important ecological benefits such as water filtration and reef habitat.
Oyster spat were also widely distributed throughout the Bay and its rivers. While the largest amounts were in the lower Bay’s saltier waters, where reproduction is typically more successful, a moderate spatfall also occurred in fresher waters that generally have little to no spat sets. Some of these areas included the upper Bay as far north as Pooles Island and the upper reaches of the Chester, Choptank and Patuxent rivers.
Additionally, the frequency and intensity of the oyster diseases MSX and Dermo remains low. Dermo remains below the long-term average for the eighth consecutive year, and MSX has fallen after a spike in 2009. Oyster survivorship, measured by the percentage of living oysters per sample, was 88 percent, the highest level since 1985 and more than double the 2002 level.
"These moderate levels of natural oyster mortalities during recent years may reflect increases in disease resistances among oysters and their progeny that survived the severe disease pressures of the 1999-2002 drought,"said Chris Dungan, manager of oyster disease research at the NOAA Oxford Lab.
Since 2000, DNR, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office and the University of Maryland have produced more than 2.5 billion oyster spat in hatcheries and planted then in Maryland waters. The partnership has also reclaimed thousands of acres of buried shells from derelict oyster reefs.
Visit Maryland DNR's website to view the full results of the oyster survey.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) will set aside more than 1,000 acres of state-owned water bottom to help expand clam and oyster farming, a practice that benefits both the Chesapeake Bay’s health and the state’s economy.
VMRC is expected in January to approve the creation of 15 new “aquaculture opportunity zones”: hard-bottom areas located in clean, shallow waters that serve as nursery areas for fish and crabs. About half of the total acreage is located around Tangier Island, while the rest is located in the Rappahannock River and the tributaries of Mobjack Bay.
“These are excellent locations for the farming of oysters and clams in on-bottom cages,” said Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Doug Domenech. “Shellfish have an amazing ability to purge the water, which will help clean the Bay, and the economic benefits from an expanded aquaculture industry are potentially quite substantial. This is a win-win.”
Aquaculture is a booming, multi-million dollar industry in Virginia. Oyster gardening under private piers and along the shoreline of privately owned waterfront property is becoming increasingly popular.
VMRC will waive the normal costs to lease water bottoms for private oyster growing in the new aquaculture opportunity zones. There will also be a streamlined permitting process and a simple application. The zones will be divided up into a maximum of 5-acre blocks and assigned on a first-come, first-served basis to any Virginia resident.
“We want people to take advantage of this exciting opportunity, especially commercial oystermen,” said VMRC Fisheries Chief Jack Travelstead. “Shellfish aquaculture is more dependable than going out and catching oysters, and reduces pressure on our wild stocks that have been suffering under the pressure of two oyster diseases.”
Visit VMRC’s website to learn more about the new aquaculture opportunity zones.
The Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) and its partners processed, cleaned and transported more than 60,000 bushels of oyster shells in 2010, using the shells to produce and plant more than 450 million baby oysters in 316 acres of the Chesapeake Bay.
Oyster shells are a limited resource and a key part of Maryland’s oyster restoration efforts, according to ORP Executive Director Stephan Abel. Reusing oyster shells provides habitat for baby oysters, which need to attach to another oyster’s hard shell to survive.
The oyster shells were collected in part through ORP’s new Oyster Shell Recycling Alliance, a first-of-its-kind network of restaurants, caterers, seafood wholesalers and citizen volunteers that donate and/or collect used oyster shells. In its first year, the alliance attracted more than 50 establishments from Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and other areas.
Oyster shells collected from alliance members are used by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Horn Point Lab Hatchery in Cambridge, Maryland. After letting the shells age for about one year, the hatchery adds the shells and oyster larvae to swimming pool-size tanks, where the larvae attach to the shells. The resulting baby oysters, called spat, are planted in designated areas in the Bay.
Through the Shell Recycling Alliance, ORP collected nearly 2 million oyster shells, which will result in more than 20 million oysters being planted back into the Chesapeake Bay over the next year.
“To meet our goals, it is critical that a greater number of shells are returned for reseeding and we hope this alliance will encourage increased participation in the coming year,” Abel said.
ORP works closely with UMCES, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other partners to restore and protect oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
For more information about ORP and oyster shell recycling, visit www.oysterrecovery.org.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question came from Soohyun, who wants to know: “What role might oysters play in the Bay’s future?”
Oysters are vital to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, but are in serious need of continued restoration to thrive. Oysters are extremely significant both economically and ecologically in the Chesapeake Bay region, but without effective management of the oyster fishery, the bivalve -- which is still at just 1 percent of historic levels -- will continue to suffer.
When populations are sufficient, oysters create reefs that can provide a large area of nooks and crevices for aquatic species. Oyster reefs can create 50 times the hard habitat surface area of a mudflat of the same size. Many Bay species, including sponges, sea squirts, and small crabs and fishes, need the hard surfaces provided by these oyster reefs to survive.
Another important function oysters play in the Bay ecosystem is their role as a filter feeder. Oysters pump large volumes of water through their gills to filter out plankton and other particles, including algae, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants. One oyster can filter more than 50 gallons per day.
Because of the importance of oysters, several organizations around the watershed are building artificial reefs from recycled oyster shells and other hard materials. Artificial reefs provide habitat that is similiar to natural oyster reefs, giving oyster spat (baby oysters) the hard surfaces they need to attach to and survive. Over time, it is expected that oysters will build up on the artificial reefs and create natural reefs.
There has also been a lot of focus on raising baby oysters in hatcheries, protecting existing oyster reefs as harvest-free "sanctuaries," and developing and promoting oyster aquaculture programs. Other projects, such as Marylanders Grow Oysters and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's oyster gardening, get citizens involved in restoring oysters.
The Bay's oyster population may never be as healthy as it once was, but with new and innovative restoration efforts taking place across the region, it seems like it will be possible for oysters to continue to be an important part of the Bay ecosystem for many years to come. If you’d like to help restore oysters, check out some ideas from the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events.
A new oyster partnership in Virginia will bring watermen, scientists, businesses and citizens together to help restore the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters while creating jobs at the same time.
The Oyster Company of Virginia (OCVA) will train watermen to become oyster farmers and equip them with cages, oyster seed and other supplies to raise oysters on leased areas of the Bay’s bottom. The watermen will be paid to plant the oyster seed, then harvest and sell the adult oysters.
To help pay for the project, citizens and businesses can join OCVA at a cost of $175 per oyster cage. Members will be able to follow online the status of the cages they fund.
OCVA hopes another aspect of the project – building artificial oyster reefs in sanctuaries that are protected from harvest – will eventually remove enough nitrogen from the Bay to become part of a nutrient trading program to meet pollution reductions needed for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
The OCVA formed in August in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. OCVA founding members, which include representatives from the Virginia Watermen’s Association, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Company, hope to lead Virginia away from purchasing the majority of its oyster supply from the Gulf of Mexico and toward restoring the Virginia oyster industry and the health of the Bay.
For more information, visit the Oyster Company of Virginia’s website at www.oysterva.com.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question comes from Lillian: “What is the waste product of a Bay oyster? Is it toxic and is there a use for this product?”
This question ended up being a little bit complex because there are several different interpretations of what the “waste” of an oyster is. Are you referring to the waste left from their filtering of the Bay’s water? The solid waste they expel? Or the waste shells left from human consumption of oysters? So we addressed all of these facets of the question for Lillian.
When oysters feed on algae -- filtering the water in the Bay at the same time -- some waste is left behind. Oysters take in water, filter out what they need for nourishment and expel the rest back into the water. This waste is often consumed by other organisms. In this way, oysters truly do provide for many of the Bay's other creatures.
Oysters also expel solid waste in the form of pellets, which decompose into the atmosphere as nitrogen. This type of nitrogen is not harmful to the Bay like the nitrogen that comes from fertilizer, animal manure, wastewater, cars and other sources that pollute the Bay.
The oyster waste caused by human consumption is perhaps the most useful, if proper procedures are followed. Instead of just tossing your oyster shells at the end of the night, they can be collected and used to rebuild the Bay's oyster population by providing habitat for oyster spat. This process, known as oyster shell recycling, is valuable to the Bay ecosystem because it gives spat a hard surface to grow on.
The Oyster Recovery Partnership has information on its website about how to get involved in its oyster shell recycling program. The Marylanders Grow Oysters program is another great way to get involved with oyster restoration if you live on one of the waterways that are part of the program.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events.
More than 2,000 new oyster cages are expected to be added along seven new creeks and rivers as part of a popular citizen oyster restoration program called Marylanders Grow Oysters.
The new tributaries, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Anne Arundel County, are:
Marylanders Grow Oysters involves waterfront homeowners in oyster restoration by supplying them with cages full of baby oysters, called oyster spat. By raising oyster spat in cages on residential piers, the oysters are protected while they are young and vulnerable to predators.
Participants keep the oyster cages for about nine months. The oyster spat are then planted in a sanctuary located on the same creek or river. Oyster sanctuaries are closed to harvesting, allowing the oyster reefs to filter pollutants in the water and provide habitat for other fish and shellfish.
Through the program, more than 61,000 oyster cages have been deployed off residential piers on 23 Maryland creeks and rivers.
Marylanders Grow Oysters began in September 2008 as a joint effort among the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and several local organizations. The first oyster “graduates” of the program came from more than 800 cages tended to by nearly 200 volunteers, and were planted on a sanctuary on the Tred Avon River in August 2009.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced the program’s expansion at the recent Chesapeake Executive Council meeting in Baltimore.
“The Marylanders Grow Oysters program has become quite a movement,” said Gov. O’Malley. “It shows how committed Maryland citizens are to cleaning up the Bay and taking care of the tributaries that flow through their backyard.”
Visit the Marylanders Grow Oysters website for more information, including a list of all the tributaries that are part of the program and if you’re eligible to grow oysters.
Maryland will expand oyster sanctuaries and aquaculture to help rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s depleted native oyster population under a three-point plan introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Maryland’s Proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan is designed to enhance oyster restoration for ecological purposes and encourage the development of aquaculture businesses, while continuing to support a more targeted and sustainable public oyster fishery.
The Chesapeake’s oyster population has remained at about one percent of historic levels since 1994, greatly affecting both the health of the Bay and the shellfish industry in Maryland. During this time period, quality oyster bars in Maryland decreased by 70 percent, from 200,000 to 36,000, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“Our native oyster is part of the public trust, and we have a clear and urgent responsibility to restore this iconic species to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Gov. O’Malley.
The proposal aims to:
The plan is based on the findings of a six-year Environmental Impact Study of oyster restoration options, as well as the work of the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission and the Aquaculture Coordinating Council.
The regulations will be published in the Maryland register on July 2, which will begin a six-week public comment period. If approved, the regulations will take effect in early September, prior to the October 1 start of the oyster season.
Learn more about the oyster restoration plan at DNR’s website.
The federal government will restore clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and its thousands of local waterways, implement conservation practices on four million acres of farmland, conserve two million acres of undeveloped land, and rebuild oysters in 20 Bay tributaries as part of a new strategy for protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The federal strategy was developed under President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Executive Order issued in May 2009, which declared the Bay a national treasure and called on the federal government to deepen its commitment to restoring and protecting the Bay.
Through the new strategy, federal agencies will dedicate unprecedented resources, aggressively target actions where they can have the greatest impact, ensure that federal lands and facilities lead by example in environmental stewardship, and take a comprehensive, ecosystem-wide approach to restoration.
The strategy directly supports restoration activities by local governments, watershed groups, conservation districts, land owners and citizens.
Many actions in the strategy will also have economic benefits for the Chesapeake region, such as conserving working farms, expanding oyster aquaculture, supporting conservation corps programs and green jobs, and developing an environmental marketplace to buy, sell and trade pollution reduction credits.
“This strategy outlines the broadest partnerships, the strongest protections and the most accountability we've seen in decades,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who chairs the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay. The Federal Leadership Committee, established by the Executive Order, includes senior representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation.
To increase accountability and accelerate restoration, federal agencies will meet milestones every two years for actions that make progress toward measurable environmental goals. These will support and complement two-year milestones set by the six Bay states and the District of Columbia.
Many actions to protect and restore the Bay will occur in the next few years, another step to accelerate cleanup efforts.
The strategy also outlines federal coordination with state activities, identifies goals for restoring the Bay, creates a process for reporting on progress, and explains how efforts will be adapted based on science and resources.
Read the full federal strategy at the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website.
To restore clean water, the EPA will:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will:
“We will help the Bay watershed’s farmers and forest owners put new conservation practices on four million acres of agricultural lands so that agriculture can build on the improvements in nutrient and sediment reductions that we have seen over the last 25 years,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
To protect priority lands, the Department of the Interior will:
“Our strategy provides the blueprint for finally restoring the Chesapeake Bay to health – its bountiful wildlife, abundant fish and shellfish, beautiful waterways and rich wetlands,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
NOAA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working closely with Maryland and Virginia, will launch a Bay-wide oyster restoration strategy that:
"It is critical that we apply our best science toward native oyster restoration and habitat protection, as well as toward development of sustainable aquaculture,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “Ecosystem-based approaches to management will enable progress toward a healthy, sustainable Chesapeake ecosystem that will include oysters for generations to come.”
Video From the Release of the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus
U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle and U.S. Department of Commerce Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Monica Medina
The Oyster Recovery Partnership has launched Maryland’s first Oyster Shell Recycling Alliance, which will collect used oyster and clam shells from restaurants for oyster reef restoration projects in the Chesapeake Bay.
Local oyster shuckers, watermen and Oyster Recovery Partnership staff will pick up oyster shells from 20 restaurants, catering companies and seafood wholesalers in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The shells will go to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Horn Point Laboratory on the Eastern Shore, which only uses recycled shells for its oyster restoration efforts. The lab raises baby oysters, which need shells to grow on, for oyster reef restoration projects in the Bay.
Once the baby oysters -- called spat -- attach to the recycled shells, they are added to existing oyster reefs in the Bay and its rivers. These new oysters and shells help oyster reefs grow and provide more habitat for other reef-dwelling creatures.
"This initiative is not only the first of its kind in Maryland, it is special because it all began with volunteers from the oyster shucking community who care deeply about our Bay," said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
A pilot program conducted over the past 18 months collected more than 3,000 bushels (about 1.5 million shells) from local catering companies and on-call pickups. As a result of this initiative, the program anticipates planting approximately 15 million new oysters in the Bay.
For a list of participating partners and more information, visit www.oysterrecovery.org.
Welcome to this week’s installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week we'll take a question submitted through the Chesapeake Bay Program website and answer it here for all to read.
Alvina asked: “What role do oysters play in the heath of the bay? What role might oysters play in the Bay’s future?”
Every native species is vital to the health and survival of any ecosystem. The eastern oyster in the Chesapeake Bay is no exception.
One major role oysters play in the Bay is filtering the water. Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they pump large volumes of water through their gills to sift out plankton and other particles they need for nourishmnet. But this process serves a double purpose: As the oysters feed, they also filter out harmful pollutants from the Bay's waters, helping to keep the water clear and clean for bay grasses and other underwater life.
Oysters also provide habitat for many species in the Chesapeake Bay. By forming reefs, oysters create small ecosystems with nooks and crannies where tiny aquatic animals hide from predators. Reefs can create 50 times the surface area of a flat, muddy Bay bottom of the same size, which is vital to sponges, sea squirts, skilletfish and other organisms that live attached to a hard surface.
Chesapeake Bay oysters are also a food source for various other Bay creatures. Anemones and sea nettles depend on oyster larvae for survival, while flatworms and mud crabs feed on new oyster spat. Older spat and first-year oysters are consumed by blue crabs and some types of fish. Some adult oysters even end up as prey for shorebirds like oystercatchers.
The roles of this important species are dramatically affected by variations in the oyster population. A diminished oyster population is not the sole reason for the Bay's poor health, but it is certainly detrimental. One of the challenges of Chesapeake Bay restoration is to restore and maintain a healthy oyster population for ecological purposes while also supporting an oyster fishery.
The future of the Chesapeake's oyster population depends on restoration and management efforts today. For instance, Maryland just introduced a proposal to increase the amount of oyster sanctuaries to one-quarter of the remaining quality reefs in that state's portion of the Bay. Oyster sanctuaries are reefs where harvesting is off-limits, allowing the reefs to expand and provide the important ecological services.
As with every living thing in the Bay, there is a domino effect. Because of all their important roles in the Bay, if oysters suffer, other creatures do as well.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose it for our Question of the Week!
Oyster mortality fell for the fifth straight year in 2007, but oyster reproduction was poor throughout most of Maryland’s portion of the Bay, according to a recently released survey by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The annual oyster survey evaluates the health and population of oyster bars in Maryland. For the 2008 survey, DNR biologists used a dredge to assess more than 1,800 oysters from 282 oyster bars.
“Preliminary results from 2008 indicate that reproduction was poor throughout most of the bay, with the exception of the lower eastern shore areas of Tangier Sound, Honga River and the Little Choptank River,” said Mitch Tarnowski, DNR fisheries biologist.
Despite low reproduction, oyster mortality from the diseases MSX and Dermo appeared to be relatively low for the fifth year in a row. While not harmful to humans, MSX and Dermo have lead to the death of up to 90 percent of oysters in some areas.
Both diseases thrive in higher salinities. As a result, disease affects oysters the most during dry years, when lower than normal river flows cause higher than average salinity in the Bay. Though summer 2007 was dry, oyster disease levels were not as high as in previous dry years.
“Oyster mortality in 2006 and 2007 were the two lowest years since the 1980s,” said Mike Naylor, Director of DNR’s Shellfish Program. “It’s too early to know if this is a trend, but this is a very positive development that we will be monitoring carefully.”
DNR has conducted the annual oyster survey each fall since 1939. Biologists use a dredge to monitor natural oyster bars, oyster sanctuaries, seed production and planting areas, and dredged and fresh shell plantings.
For more information about the 2008 oyster survey, including historical mortality graphs, visit DNR’s website.
The state of Maryland planted nearly 750 million baby oysters – called oyster spat – in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers in 2009, surpassing last year’s total of 600 million spat and marking a new record for the state’s oyster restoration program.
The oyster spat were grown at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Horn Point Laboratory, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore near Cambridge. Using the spat, Maryland was able to revitalize 350 acres of oyster reefs on 26 sites across the Bay and its rivers.
Part of the reason for the large increase in spat production was an expanded partnership between UMCES, the Oyster Recovery Partnership and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, in which waterfront property owners raise hatchery-reared oyster spat in cages. Residents along 12 Maryland rivers are currently growing oyster spat in more than 5,000 cages; next year the spat will be transferred to oyster sanctuaries throughout the Bay.
“At a time when we are escalating all of our efforts to restore the Bay, this record planting – along with record involvement by citizen stewards in oyster restoration – gives us tremendous confidence for increasing the Bay’s oyster population,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a statement.
The oyster restoration process involves several steps:
Watch these two videos for a further explanation on how oyster spat are produced at the Horn Point Laboratory:
Maryland is poised to continue surpassing its oyster spat production levels each year, according to UMCES president Dr. Donald Boesch. A new oyster setting facility at the Horn Point Laboratory will potentially allow UMCES to produce up to two billion oyster spat per year.
Want to do your part to help the Bay’s oysters? If you live on the water in Maryland, check out the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, which is now open to residents on 12 of the state’s rivers, including the Annemessex, Magothy and St. Mary’s.
Officials with Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) have decided against introducing Asian oysters as a way to restore the Bay’s degraded oyster population, citing “unacceptable ecological risks.” The states will instead focus on native oyster restoration.
The native-only restoration strategy will be published in the final Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which is due to be published in late June.
The official statement released by the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Executive Committee -- which includes the Corps, the PRFC and the natural resource secretaries from Maryland and Virginia -- reads:
Based on the current state of the science and extensive public discourse, the use of non-native oysters in Chesapeake Bay, its tidal tributaries, and the coastal bays and waters of Maryland and Virginia poses unacceptable ecological risks.
Therefore, it is prudent for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) to adopt a native oyster only preferred alternative for purposes of the PEIS. In selecting the native oyster alternative, the Corps, together with the cooperating federal agencies, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and PRFC will remain fully committed to using only the native oyster to work towards revitalizing oyster restoration and aquaculture in meeting commercial and ecological goals. Furthermore, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and PRFC will work towards implementing biologically and economically sustainable harvesting measures for the public oyster fishery. Finally, the Corps, together with the cooperating federal agencies, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and PRFC will pursue the establishment of realistic metrics, accountability measures and a performance based adaptive management methodology for all efforts in revitalizing the native oyster for purposes of achieving commercial and ecological goals.
The governors of Maryland and Virginia praised the committee’s decision.
"I am extremely pleased that we have reached an agreement on a preferred oyster restoration alternative, one that will not threaten the Bay's already stressed ecosystem,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “We look forward to collaborating with our partners in Virginia to use new science developed through this extraordinary study to support both the ecological restoration of our native oyster and the revitalization of our oyster industry with emphasis on new aquaculture opportunities."
"While we have seen certain promise in ariakensis aquaculture from the Virginia Seafood Council trials over the past seven years, we agree -- based on the recommendations of our Virginia Institute of Marine Science -- that moving forward we should focus primarily on restoring the Bay's native oyster," said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.
The full Oyster Restoration PEIS Executive Committee is made up of the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the secretaries of natural resources for Maryland and Virginia, working with the PRFC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Visit the Corps’ website for more information about the Oyster Restoration PEIS.
Waterfront property owners on Maryland’s Tred Avon River have a new way to become involved in the Bay restoration effort through a pilot oyster-growing program set up by several Maryland state agencies and Bay Program partners.
Marylanders Grow Oysters invites residents along the Tred Avon River, a tributary of the Choptank River in Talbot County, to grow oysters from their piers using cages filled with young oysters provided by the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
Oysters are vital to the Bay because they filter algae and pollutants out of the water and form reefs that provide habitat for underwater life. (See an oyster reef’s amazing filtering abilities in this video from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.)
The state hopes to enlist 250 homeowners in the program by the end of October. Each homeowner will place four oyster cages off their pier. After a nine- to 12-month growing period, the oysters will be planted in a protected sanctuary in the Tred Avon River, adding to the more than 1.4 billion oysters that have been planted by the state throughout Maryland waters since 2000.
For more on this pilot program, visit the Marylanders Grow Oysters website. If you do not live on the Tred Avon River but would like to participate in the program in the future, you can sign up to receive information from the Department of Natural Resources when the program expands to other Maryland tributaries.
Learn about more things you can do to help the Bay at home, in your backyard and on your boat.
Maryland's Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) recently submitted an interim report to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Maryland General Assembly and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin concerning the state's oyster management program.
Using the latest scientific information available, the OAC reached consensus on a “possible vision for what a healthy oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay might look like and what functions it would serve in the 21st century.”
With Bay oyster populations at a mere 1 percent of their historic levels, the OAC offered findings that are intended to provide direction to help restore the Bay's most important bivalve. These findings include:
The OAC is comprised of 21 scientists, watermen, anglers, businessmen, economists, environmental advocates and elected officials. The commission's sole purpose is to advise the state of Maryland on matters relating to oysters and strategies for rebuilding and managing the oyster population in Maryland 's portion of the Bay.
It is no secret that Chesapeake Bay oysters are in trouble. Years of over-harvesting, disease and poor water quality have decimated populations to the point where their numbers are just one percent of historic levels.
Over the years several different methods have been developed to assist in the rehabilitation of the oyster population. While many of these methods have been successful, recent experiments performed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and Virginia's oyster industry demonstrate that “spat-on-shell” oyster production may become a viable and effective process for growing healthy and harvestable oysters in Virginia waters.
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has been utilizing spat-on-shell oyster restoration techniques in the Bay since the mid-1960s. Last year, the UMCES facility produced more than 350 million spat-on-shell, of which 325 million were used in Bay restoration. In 2006, the second year of spat-on-shell programs in Virginia, 25 million spat were produced.
In order to reach maturity, spat need to attach to a solid surface. While rocks and other underwater debris are suitable for oyster growth, spat have higher success rates growing upon other oyster shells.
Using carefully engineered aquaculture procedures, spat are cultured in specialized tanks and allowed to “set” onto oyster shells, or cultch. In a few months the spat, numbering about a dozen per shell, will have grown into tiny oysters no larger than a fingernail. The advantages of growing clusters of oysters together rather than raising and planting single cultures are threefold:
VIMS, VMRC and volunteers from Virginia's oyster industry placed 18 sets of spat-on-shell oysters in Virginia waters between July and October of 2006. Locations for the sets varied widely, with sites in Pungoteague Creek and the Coan, Piankatank, Rappahannock and Ware rivers. Set sizes also varied from as little as 127,000 to as many as 3.6 million.
Results so far have been promising with survival rates ranging from 17 to 98 percent. While these numbers are heartening, spat-on-shell production projects should not be viewed as the silver bullet that will solve all of the oyster's woes, but they may be able to help the Virginia oyster populations rebound to higher levels. To find out more about oyster restoration in Virginia, please visit: http://www.vims.edu/.