Oyster Restoration

The native oyster is an extremely resilient species, able to tolerate wide variations in salinity and temperature—but it has not been immune to the pressures of disease, overharvesting, and pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. As a result, native oyster populations in Chesapeake Bay are at less than 1% of historic levels.

This tremendous decline in the oyster population has dramatically changed the ecology of the Bay as well as the oyster fishery and the cultural tradition of watermen who harvest seafood from the Bay for a living. One of the responses to this decline has been attempts to restore oyster populations. NOAA and its partners bring expertise and knowledge of the science and techniques behind oyster restoration to projects around the Bay.

NOAA is involved in oyster restoration projects at a number of locations around the Chesapeake Bay, including both in Maryland—in Harris Creek and the Tred Avon, Little Choptank, and St. Mary's Rivers—and in Virginia in the Lafayette, Lynnhaven, Piankatank, Lower York, and Great Wicomoco Rivers.   

The video below shows what a typical prerestoration site looks like (video taken in the Tred Avon River, summer 2014), as well as two short video clips from a postrestoration site (taken in Harris Creek in October 2015 on a reef that was constructed in 2012 and seeded in 2013).



The first project in that area kicked off in a major, tributary-wide effort in Harris Creek on Maryland's Eastern Shore. In Harris Creek, a team of federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions including NOAA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Oyster Recovery Partnership, supported development of the Harris Creek Oyster Restoration Tributary Plan, which details the restoration site selection process and the reef construction, seeding, and monitoring required to bring Harris Creek in line with the oyster metrics definition of a successfully restored tributary.

The Maryland Interagency Oyster Workgroup also has released Tributary Plans for the Little Choptank River and Tred Avon River, also in the Choptank River system on Maryland's Eastern Shore. 

In addition, partners in Virginia have developed the Lynnhaven Oyster Restoration Plan and Piankatank Oyster Restoration Plan

Reefs are monitored at three and then again at six years after restoration. Reports on how the reefs are progressing are available:

NOAA's Role in Oyster Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay

NOAA is one of the lead federal agencies involved in oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office is working with federal, state, and local partners in Maryland and Virginia to implement large-scale restoration and to provide science support and evaluation to understand how to better manage the resource and habitat.

NOAA’s financial and technical support of oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay has grown from one small demonstration-scale project of less than ¼ acre in 1995, to multiagency, tributary-scale projects—often hundreds of acres. The goal of early projects was to restore oysters while fostering citizen involvement in the recovery effort, whereas current programs focus on achieving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement's goal of restoring native oysters to 10 tributaries by 2025.

NOAA funding over the years has been used for all facets of restoration activities, but has been used in Maryland specifically to address capacity limitations such as shell handling, hatchery tanks, water quality, algal production, and other restoration infrastructure needs. But the focus has always been on maximizing on-the-ground projects in both low- and high-salinity areas. Results of these projects have been mixed, with some sites having high survival rates and showing long-term persistence, and other sites succumbing to disease, sedimentation, or both legal and illegal harvest.

NOAA, Partners Share Oyster Restoration Science at Conference

The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office led a panel of presentations on oyster restoration science at the 18th International Conference on Shellfish Restoration in 2016. The goal of the session was to share the latest science with people involved in oyster restoration around the United States so they can learn from and build on science and techniques used in the Chesapeake Bay. The scientists' presentations are available here: