Rebuilding the Bay’s Oyster Population

 

A partnership of more than 20 organizations, businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions has established a bold new goal of adding 10 billion new oysters to the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. The result will be cleaner water and creation of jobs that will help local economies.

“Oysters are so much more than the tasty bivalves that many know them to be. They are a crucial part of our ocean planet,” said John Racanelli, National Aquarium chief executive officer. “They help keep our waterways clean by removing harmful pollutants and they provide a hospitable place for other animals to live – from the backwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to the vast Atlantic Ocean. We’re proud to collaborate with the Chesapeake 10 Billion Oysters Partnership to revitalize the national treasure that is the Chesapeake Bay.”

The 10 billion oysters will come from a combination of expanded restoration activities, fishery repletion activities, and the continued growth of the Bay’s oyster aquaculture industry.

In recent years, the pace and scale of oyster restoration has been greatly accelerated by state and federal agencies’ efforts, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources, working with groups including the Oyster Recovery Partnership to implement the Chesapeake Bay Program goal of restoring 10 Bay tributaries by 2025.

The partnership has established as its top three priorities ensuring robust funding for oyster restoration, establishing sound science-based management that ensures sustainable harvest of the Bay’s oyster population, and expanding the oyster aquaculture industries in Maryland and Virginia.

“Scientists have been doing research on oysters in the Chesapeake for almost 150 years. The evidence continues to grow about the importance of abundant oyster populations for water quality, biological productivity and diversity, shoreline integrity and the resilience of this great ecosystem,” said Don Boesch, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Professor and President Emeritus. “Oyster reef restoration efforts over the past five years have been very successful in producing dense populations that are surviving, reproducing and adding greatly to the supply of oyster larvae in the Bay.”

Oyster aquaculture provides many of the same environmental benefits as wild oysters, including filtering algae and sediment as they grow to market size. Industry partners also note that aquaculture’s continued growth will create jobs and provide economic benefits to coastal communities.

“As a waterman and oyster farming entrepreneur, I’ve witnessed the power and potential for aquaculture to transform a disappearing economy into a thriving industry that will play a substantial role in achieving our 10 billion goal,” said Johnny Shockley, Founding Partner, Hoopers Island Oyster Co. “This partnership promotes small business, creates jobs and maintains oyster growers’ long-term viability. We see a future when the Chesapeake once again leads the world in seafood production with hundreds of oyster farms and a sustainable public fishery that preserves our heritage and builds a billion-dollar industry.”

The 10 billion oyster goal relies heavily on commitments that Maryland and Virginia made to restore oyster populations in five tributaries in each state by 2025. As the partnership creates new volunteer restoration opportunities, it will also provide new voices in support of state and federal efforts to restore oyster populations.

Local and regional organizations play a critical role as well. Lynnhaven River NOW has a comprehensive approach to restoring the Lynnhaven. They educate, advocate to reduce polluted runoff, and they are actively restoring the river’s oyster population.

“In many ways bringing back the Lynnhaven oyster has defined the work of our organization,” said Karen Forget, Executive Director of Lynnhaven NOW. “Our work in reducing pollutants entering the river is measured by the areas open to shellfish harvest and those areas have grown from 1% in 2002 to 46% in 2018.”

The Lafayette River is a prime example of what partners can achieve when they work together. The use of reef balls, as well as reefs seeded with oysters grown by oyster gardeners, has the Lafayette on track to be the first river in Virginia with a restored oyster population.

“We will never achieve a restored and healthy Bay until we restore the Bay’s oysters,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said. “This partnership will help make that happen.”

More information on the partnership can be found at www.TenBillionOysters.org.

National partners include Restore America’s Estuaries, Building Conservation Trust, and the National Aquarium. In Maryland the partnership includes Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, the Downtown Sailing Center, Friends of St. Clements Bay, Friends of the Wicomico River, Harris Creek Oyster Company, Hoopers Island Oyster Company, Lighthouse Point Marina, the Living Classrooms Foundation, Mudgies Oyster Farm, Orchard Point Oyster Company, the South River Federation, The Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership, the University of Maryland Extension, War Horse Cities, Washington College, and the West-Rhode Riverkeeper. In Virginia, the partnership includes Chessie Seafood, the Elizabeth River Project, Lynnhaven River NOW, Pleasure House Oysters, and Virginia Wesleyan University. Scientific advisors to the partnership include the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

 

“Oysters are the iconic species of the Bay. They’re so important as nature’s engineers – building reefs, creating biodiversity, creating habitat – and they have a tremendous ecological impact on the Bay.”
Mike Roman

Director, Horn Point Laboratory, Scientific Advisor to the Partnership

 

“Oysters are a keystone species whose reefs provide critical habitat for important recreational fish species. Recreational angling supports multi-million dollar industries in the Chesapeake Bay region, and CCA Maryland is excited to be a partner in the Chesapeake 10 Billion Oyster effort, which will accelerate restoration of fish habitat and improve angling opportunities for the citizens of Maryland.” 
David Sikorski

Executive Director, Coastal Conservation Association Maryland

 

“Science-based oyster aquaculture technology gives us the ability to renew our critical natural populations of this keystone species and rebuild our commercial production for benefits to the ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT and the ENVIRONMENT.”
Donald Webster

Regional Specialist, Aquaculture, University of Maryland, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Wye Research & Education Center

 

“The 10 Billion Oyster Project is an exciting cross-sector challenge that emphasizes the need to bring all stakeholders together around rebuilding the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population. There is no question that oysters provide a multitude of benefits for clean water, economics, and recreation. By setting this oyster planting target, all sectors including the government, private industry, commercial fisheries and environmentalists can play a major role in achieving that goal and ensuring that these cross-sector benefits continue to strengthen as the result of a growing oyster population. And by focusing on the cumulative planting of oysters, we can work collaboratively on a mission that stands true across all sectors – having more oysters in the bay and rivers.” 

Matthew Pluta

Choptank Riverkeeper, ShoreRivers

 

Washington College Joins Oyster Partnership

Washington College (WC) has joined the launch of the Chesapeake 10 Billion Oysters Partnership, a collaborative effort to add 10 billion oysters to the Bay by 2025. WC is the only liberal arts college in Maryland among the dozens of participants in Maryland and Virginia.

This broad collaboration aims to fully restore the keystone species, which as a filter feeder is historically vital to improving the Bay’s water quality, as well as providing the foundation for a sustainable fishery. The effort will also draw new constituencies to the restoration effort and drive economic benefits region-wide to accelerate the oyster’s recovery.

“This kind of ambitious yet achievable goal is precisely what is needed in so many of our environmental restoration efforts,” says John Seidel, Director of Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society (CES). “To realize such a lofty objective, to have real impact, we need an all-hands-on-deck approach. We at Washington College will do everything we can to help meet the partnership’s goal, using the power of bivalves to filter the Bay’s waters.”

“By generating new partnerships and sparking innovation, we hope this coalition will accelerate efforts that already show tremendous promise for the Bay’s oyster populations,” says Allison Colden, the Maryland fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which is helping to coordinate the partnership.

At Washington College, students, faculty, and staff have been working for years on projects related to oyster restoration, Seidel says. Among the College’s programs:

  • CES coordinated the Marylanders Grow Oysters program on the Chester River, providing oyster cages and spat to shoreline residents who raised the oysters that CES then planted on bars in the area.
  • CES was part of an award-winning project to restore the shoreline on Hail Point in Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Working with the National Aquarium in Baltimore and state and federal partners, CES provided the oysters that formed a living reef to protect this fragile habitat from wave damage.
  • The College’s Chester River Watershed Observatory monitors water quality and maps bottom habitat, helping to promote the health of oysters and many other species.
  • Every fall, the Chesapeake Semester exposes young leaders to the power of oysters as a vital part of the ecosystem and as an iconic species, through meeting with watermen, aquaculturists, and studying biology and oyster restoration efforts around the Bay.
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