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 1% of historic levels. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program set a goal to restore reefs and populations in 10 rivers by 2025. As of 2019, all 10 tributaries have been selected for oyster restoration: Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, Tred Avon, upper St. Mary's and Manokin rivers in Maryland, and the Great Wicomico, Lafayette, Lower York, Lynnhaven and Piankatank rivers in Virginia.
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 the Maryland Oyster Restoration Update, 788 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete. Record rainfall in 2019 resulted in low oyster seed production at the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Oyster Hatchery, the primary seed producer for the effort. This meant there was only enough seed to plant on 11 acres, a typical year is around 100 acres. According to Virginia's Oyster Restoration Update, partners constructed 94 acres of oyster reefs in 2019, bringing the total to 539 acres of restored reefs in Virginia.
To learn more about our progress toward restoring oyster habitat and populations in ten Bay tributaries, visit www.ChesapeakeProgress.com.