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Fisheries officials, advocates say oyster reef restoration project remains on track

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Fisheries officials, advocates say oyster reef restoration project remains on track

Jun 07, 2024 | 3:16 pm ET
By Maryland Matters Staff
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Fisheries officials, advocates say oyster reef restoration project remains on track
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A restored oyster reef in a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay provides habitat for a number of species. Photo courtesy Oyster Recovery Partnership

A 2014 plan to restore oyster reefs in 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025 is on track, with restoration in eight of the original 10 waterways considered complete, according to state and federal organizations involved in the project.

The Chesapeake Bay Program partners said by the end of last year, 1,572 acres of reefs had been restored in the tributaries in Maryland and Virginia that were selected for large-scale restoration. Restoration work remains in Maryland’s Manokin River and Virginia’s Lynnhaven River, which currently have 222 and 38 more acres to go, according to a statement this week from the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The waterways were targeted in the 2oi4 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, as well as several nonprofit organizations and academic institutions. Virginia added an 11th waterway, the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, in 2019.

The plan called for reefs to be constructed in each waterway, seeded and monitored for progress. In Maryland, monitoring is under way in the Little Choptank, the Tred Avon and Upper St. Mary’s, and in Virginia on the Piankatank, the lower York, Lafayette and Great Wicomico. Monitoring of Maryland’s in Harris Creek is complete.

Since 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program partners have spent approximately $108 million to construct reefs.

Besides being a valuable fishery, oysters are important for Bay cleanup efforts, as they survive by pumping water through their gills to trap food and, in doing so, they remove contaminants from the water. It has been estimated that one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Oyster reefs, typically made up of mounds of old shells, can also help prevent shorelines from erosion.

Oysters have been a valuable product for watermen since the late 19th century, but their numbers in the Bay have been decimated by decades of overfishing, pollution and loss of habitat.

Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz said in a prepared statement from the Chesapeake Bay Program that gains in oyster populations mean “growing oyster harvests for watermen in the state

“The future for eastern oysters in the Chesapeake Bay is brighter than it has been for decades and there’s no question that the tributary-scale restoration efforts have played an important role in improving the outlook for these iconic Bay bivalves,” Kurtz’s statement said.