For more than a century, oysters have made up one of the region's most valuable commercial fisheries. While the filter-feeder continues to clean our water and offer food and habitat to other animals, over-harvesting, disease and habitat loss have led to a severe drop in oyster populations.
Today, native oysters populations are at less than one percent of historic levels. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program set a goal to restore reefs and populations in ten rivers by 2025. As of 2018, eight tributaries have been selected for oyster restoration: Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River in Maryland, and the Great Wicomico, Lafayette, Lower York, Lynnhaven and Piankatank rivers in Virginia. The Manokin and St. Mary’s rivers—both located in Maryland—are being considered for selection.
Each tributary that has been selected for oyster restoration is at a different level of progress in a process that involves developing a tributary restoration plan, constructing and seeding reefs, and monitoring and evaluating restored reefs. According to a July 2018 restoration update from Maryland, 716 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete and 222 acres of reefs remain to be restored in the Tred Avon and Little Choptank rivers. According to a January 2018 restoration update from Virginia, 480 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete and 66 acres remain to be restored in the Lafayette and Lynnhaven rivers. Restoration targets for the Great Wicomico, Lower York and Piankatank rivers are under development.