Progress

Ten Chesapeake Bay tributaries have been selected for oyster reef 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. The Sustainable Fisheries GIT approved the Upper St. Mary’s River as the ninth tributary in December 2018 and the Manokin River as the tenth tributary in June 2019.

Each of these tributaries is at a different level of progress in a process that involves developing a tributary restoration plan, building and seeding reefs, and monitoring and evaluating restored reefs. Monitoring and evaluation—which will take place at three- and six-year intervals following construction and seeding—will determine whether a reef can be considered restored and whether this outcome has been met. This phase will not be complete until after 2025. More information about monitoring and evaluation protocols, frequency and success metrics can be found in a metrics report from the Oyster Metrics Workgroup.

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Oyster Reef Restoration (2018)

Individual acreage targets are based on a tributary's historic oyster habitat and currently restorable area. The Upper St. Mary's, Manokin, Great Wicomico, and Lower York rivers will be added to this chart once their target acreages are established.

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Oyster Restoration in Chesapeake Bay Tributaries (2017)

The table below depicts the following information about the tributaries that have been selected for oyster restoration: where planning and restoration stand; the acres of reefs that have been restored toward established targets; and whether monitoring and evaluation is underway.

Download the Oyster Reef Restoration Progress Dashboard (.xlsx)

In Maryland, 773 acres of oyster reefs in the internationally recognized Choptank Complex—which includes Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River—are considered complete. While most of these reefs have undergone restoration as part of our progress toward this outcome, others are naturally occurring and already meet our criteria for a restored reef. According to a June 2019 restoration update, 164 acres of reefs remain to be restored, including approximately 63 acres in the Tred Avon and 101 acres in the Little Choptank.

  • The Harris Creek restoration plan originally called for 377 acres of reefs to be restored. This target was later revised to 350 acres. Between 2011 and 2015, 351 acres of reefs were built and seeded with spat, marking the completion of the initial restoration phase for the largest oyster restoration sanctuary in the United States. Since completion, efforts have focused on monitoring and conducting second-year-class seedings. Monitoring will continue through 2021.
  • The Little Choptank River restoration plan calls for 440 acres of reefs to be restored. Of this total, 45 acres already meet our definition of a restored reef, by virtue of the existing natural oyster population. In 2018, 57 acres of reefs have been restored, bringing the total acreage of restored reefs in the Little Choptank to 339. An additional 53 acres received their planned second-year-class seeding in 2018. Approximately five remaining acres require only the addition of seed oysters (not reef-building substrate) and are slated to receive seed oysters in 2019.
  • The Tred Avon River restoration plan calls for 147 acres of reefs restored in the sanctuary. As of 2018, nearly 84 acres of reefs have been restored. The three acres of reefs constructed in 2018 will be seeded in 2019. Monitoring will be conducted in 2019 on the first set of substrate reefs constructed (16 acres).
  • The Upper St. Mary's River was approved as the ninth tributary by the Sustainable Fisheries GIT in December 2018. Pre-restoration sonar and oyster population surveys have been completed. The workgroup is currently developing a restoration plan, which will describe the restoration goals and lay out which areas will be slated for restoration.
  • The Manokin River was approved as the tenth tributary by the Sustainable Fisheries GIT in June 2019. The workgroup is currently collecting, reviewing and analyzing information that will be used to develop a restoration plan.

In Virginia, 510 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete. Some of these reefs have undergone restoration as part of our progress toward this outcome, while others have undergone previous restoration work or, due to naturally occurring reefs and oysters, already meet our criteria for a restored reef. According to a February 2019 restoration update, planned restoration work was finished in the Lafayette River in 2018, marking it as the first river in Virginia to be considered complete under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Approximately 61 acres remain to be restored in the Lynnhaven River. Restoration targets for the Great Wicomico and Lower York are under development.

  • In the Great Wicomico River due to past restoration work, 61 acres of reefs in this tributary already meet our definition of restored. In 2019, partners plan to complete monitoring work to reassess previously constructed reefs relative to the Oyster Metrics success criteria. Preliminary results of this assessment determined that at least 61 acres of reef currently meet the Oyster Metrics success criteria.
  • The Lafayette River restoration plan called for 80 acres of reefs to be restored. Of the 80 acres, 70 acres already meet our definition of a restored reef due to older existing restoration projects (22 acres) and historic reefs (48 acres). Between 2017 and 2018, the partners constructed a total of 11 acres, marking completion of the initial restoration phase for the Lafayette River. The project will now enter the monitoring phase.
  • In the Lower York River, partners developed a GIS geodatabase in 2018 to be used for goal setting, planning and tracking. In 2018, partners also conducted an extensive sonar survey of the river bottom which will be used by the workgroup in 2019 to determine which areas are suitable for oyster restoration and to help set a restoration goal.
  • The Lynnhaven River restoration plan called for 152 acres of reefs to be restored. An estimated 91 acres of existing oyster reefs have been restored or are functioning at a restored level. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Virginia Beach plan to restore 31 acres of reefs in the Lynnhaven. Other Chespeake Bay Program partners plan to construct and additional 23 acres of reef habit in 2019.
  • The Piankatank River restoration plan called for 438 acres of reefs to be restored. Of this total, 228 acres already meet our definition of a restored reef. In 2018, partners finished building 15 acres of reefs, bringing the total acreage of restored reefs in the tributary to 278. Partners plan to construct reefs in spring and summer 2019. The size and design will be determined by the level of funding that is available. Planned for a spring 2019 completion, the partners are continuing oyster monitoring work in the Piankatank, assessing the 25-acre reef constructed in 2017 relative to the Oyster Metrics success criteria to determine suitability of other sites for potential restoration.

Over-harvesting, disease and habitat loss have led to a severe drop in oyster populations over the last century. Oyster restoration at the tributary level aims to increase oyster populations to provide the ecosystem services that oyster reefs perform.

Tracking our progress toward restoring oyster reefs is critical to understanding our progress toward enhancing climate resiliency. Oyster reefs promote clean water, provide food and habitat to species threatened by climate change, and protect shorelines from strong waves. The latter mitigates the impacts of coastal floods and reduces the extent of property damage caused by storm events. For these reasons, oyster reefs help us prepare for some of the disruptions climate change can cause.

Funding

According to the Maryland Oyster Restoration Interagency Workgroup, partners have invested more than $55 million in oyster restoration in the Choptank Complex over the past eight years.

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Oyster Reef Restoration Costs in the Choptank Complex (2012-2018)

These costs represent only those funds spent on reef construction, material transport and seeding. Costs associated with directing existing resources into the Choptank Complex are not reflected, nor are staff salaries.
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In Harris Creek, partners spent $28.56 million between 2011 and 2018. In the Little Choptank River, partners spent $21.44 million between 2014 and 2018. In the Tred Avon River, partners spent $5.26 million between 2015 and 2018. It is important to note that these costs represent only those funds spent on reef construction, material transport and seeding. Costs associated with directing existing resources into the Choptank Complex (e.g., water quality monitoring, benthic surveys, or oyster population and disease surveys) are not reflected, nor are staff salaries.

Management Strategy

To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:

  • Planning and implementing oyster reef restoration in select Maryland and Virginia tributaries.
  • Coordinating and communicating our progress toward and research related to oyster reef restoration.

Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur at the reef, tributary and Chesapeake Bay-wide levels. Reef- and tributary-level monitoring will take place at three and six years after restoration is complete to determine if a tributary has been successfully restored according to agreed-upon metrics.

As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in August of 2017. Progress will be reviewed and discussed again in November of 2019.

Logic & Action Plan

Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.

Completed actions from this outcome's Logic & Action Plan include:

  • • In 2019, the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team (GIT) approved the selection of Manokin River as the tenth tributary chosen for oyster reef restoration. The Maryland Interagency Oyster Team and Maryland Department of Natural Resources recommended Manokin River as suitable for large-scale oyster restoration.

Participating Partners

The Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome. It works in partnership with the Vital Habitats, Water Quality and Healthy Watersheds goal implementation teams.

Participating partners include:

  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources (State of Maryland)
  • City of Norfolk (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • City of Virginia Beach (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Christopher Newport University (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Virginia Marine Resources Commission (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Potomac River Fisheries Commission
  • Chesapeake Bay Commission
  • National Marine Fisheries Service (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Elizabeth River Project
  • Lynnhaven River NOW
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Oyster Recovery Partnership
  • Oyster Reefkeepers
  • Pleasure House Oysters