by Rachel Felver
September 25, 2018
Oyster restoration efforts across the Chesapeake Bay continued to grow in 2017. According to the latest oyster restoration updates from Virginia and Maryland, eight tributaries have now been selected for oyster reef restoration. These reports, issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office and the Chesapeake Bay Program, outline progress made in the two states to restore oyster reefs in ten Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
Each of these tributaries are in varying levels of progress in a process that involves developing a tributary restoration plan, constructing and seeding reefs, and monitoring and evaluating restored reefs. The monitoring phase will determine success in meeting the oyster outcome in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, but will not be completed until after 2025, as a tributary must be monitored at three– and six– year intervals following reef construction and seeding before it can be considered restored.
Three tributaries in Maryland are currently undergoing restoration: Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River. Since restoration work began in 2011, nearly 670 acres of sanctuary oyster reefs have been completed, with over 3.94 billion oyster spat seeds planted. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced that two additional sites had been recommended for oyster restoration, the Manokin River and upper St. Mary’s River.
Initial restoration at Harris Creek was completed in 2015, making it the largest sanctuary oyster restoration project in the United States. The activities in the Maryland tributaries are recognized internationally for their large-scale restoration success.
In Virginia, five tributaries have been selected for oyster restoration: the Great Wicomico River, the Lafayette River, the Lower York River, the Lynnhaven River and the Piankatank River. Currently 445 acres of reef are considered complete.
For more than a century, oysters have made up one of the region’s most valuable commercial fisheries. However, over-harvesting, disease and habitat loss contributed to a severe drop in oyster populations, leaving the bivalves at less than one percent of their historic levels. Oysters are natural filter feeders that help trap nutrients, sediment and chemical contaminants in the water. They also provide food and habitat to other marine animals and have contributed millions of dollars to this region’s economy.
In 2017, both states adopted a refined methodology for setting oyster restoration goals to be used in future restoration targets. This refined method keeps the original Chesapeake Bay Oyster Metrics language of restoring 50 to 100 percent of “currently restorable oyster habitat” as the goal for completing oyster restoration within a tributary, but now defines “currently restorable oyster habitat” as areas where water quality is sufficient to support oyster survival, and where there is historic or present-day evidence of oyster populations. Previously, this definition was not limited to areas with evidence of historic oyster populations and included any river bottom suitable to support a restored oyster reef.
Learn more about the state of oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay.