Oysters are a keystone species in the bay, yet overfishing, disease and pollution have left the bay with only about 1 percent of the oysters it once had. Restoring oysters and the habitat they provide for a multitude of other fish and animals is essential to improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Successful restoration projects like the Great Wicomico River, recent evidence indicating fewer oysters are dying from disease, and efforts to expand oyster farming suggest oysters and the oyster industry can make a comeback. To do so, bay resource managers and scientists must initiate a new strategy based on large scale projects in tributaries targeted for their likelihood to succeed.
Executive Order 13508 Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed calls for federal and state partners to restore 20 bay tributaries by 2025. Achieving this goal, requires a new strategy anchored by substantial collaboration among oyster restoration partners bay wide, guided by the best available science, and targeted in areas most likely to succeed. The Maryland Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan are integral components to this effort. The Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team (Fisheries GIT) has agreed to serve as the coordinating body to provide guidance and oversight in aligning oyster restoration efforts and ensure bay-wide scientific and technical capabilities are leveraged to address challenges.