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 a June 2019 restoration update from Maryland, 774 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete and 164 acres of reefs remain to be restored in the Tred Avon and Little Choptank rivers. According to a February 2019 restoration update from Virginia, 510 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete and 61 acres remain to be restored in the Lynnhaven Rivers. Restoration targets for the Great Wicomico and Lower York are under development.