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2016 Oyster Restoration Updates

Significant acreage of oyster reefs in both Maryland and Virginia has been restored in recent years, according to reports released by multiagency efforts. These groups are working toward the goal, outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement (which guides work of the Chesapeake Bay Program), to restore healthy oyster populations in 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025. This goal supports healthy ecosystems and economies by restoring oyster populations and reefs, which provide ecosystem services including filtering Bay water and providing habitat for a range of species.

The 2016 Maryland Oyster Restoration Update—the sixth annual update on this effort—describes oyster restoration work accomplished in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, and the Tred Avon River. These tributaries are all part of the Choptank River complex on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Update was developed by the Maryland Oyster Restoration Interagency Workgroup, which is chaired by NOAA and includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Oyster Recovery Partnership. This summary of work quantifies what was accomplished in the previous year, as well as cumulatively since work started in 2011. In 2016:

  • The initial phase of restoration was completed on nearly 165 acres of oyster reefs.
  • A total of nearly 800 million oyster seed were planted in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, and the Tred Avon River.
  • A significant science and monitoring program is under way on and near restoration sites, including research to quantify the ecological and economic benefits of restored oyster reefs, and detailed monitoring to track the health of restored reefs.
  • The Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission is discussing naming the fourth and fifth tributaries.

In Virginia, three tributary-focused workgroups coordinate planning and implementation for restoration in three tributaries: the Lafayette, Piankatank, and Lynnhaven Rivers. Each tributary workgroup is composed of a different group of agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. This is the first year a report has been compiled to summarize work in all three of these Virginia tributaries, and it includes

  • In the Lafayette River, the group determined that 70.5 acres are restored, leaving 9.5 acres remaining to meet the 80-acres restoration target.
  • In the Piankatank, 25 acres of reefs have been constructed since work started in 2017; the Piankatank workgroup is working to set a specific restoration goal.
  • In the Lynnhaven, the workgroup is analyzing how much restorable bottom exists in order to set a restoration acreage goal. Significant restoration has already occurred, and the oyster reefs in the Lynnhaven are home to nearly 20 million oysters.
  • The Great Wicomoco and lower York rivers have been preliminarily selected to be Virginia’s fourth and fifth tributaries for restoration.

The Chesapeake Bay Program maintains a dashboard to track progress toward the overall goal of restoring oysters to 10 tributaries, available at www.chesapeakeprogress.com/abundant-life/oysters.