Recent Progress: Increase
Ten Chesapeake Bay tributaries have been selected for oyster reef restoration: Harris Creek, the Little Choptank, 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 Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River in Virginia as an eleventh bonus tributary in 2020.
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. As of the end of 2021, six of the ten originally selected tributaries have been restored (Harris Creek, Little Choptank River, and the Tred Avon River in Maryland and the Lafayette, Piankatank, and Great Wicomico rivers in Virginia), in addition to the eleventh bonus tributary, the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River. Restoration work is under way in the remaining four tributaries under this goal (the upper St. Mary’s and Manokin rivers in Maryland and the Lower York and Lynnhaven rivers in Virginia).
Monitoring and evaluation will take place at three- and six-year intervals following construction and seeding. This monitoring and evaluation 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.
Outlook: On Course
The Oysters Outcome is on course and is expected to be met by 2025, although monitoring and evaluation of some of the oyster reef restorations will continue past 2025.
According to the Maryland and Virginia Oyster Restoration Interagency Workgroups, partners have invested nearly $77 million in oyster restoration in Chesapeake Bay tributaries over the past ten years. This includes reef construction only; costs such as benthic surveys, planning, permitting, and monitoring are not reflected.
Oyster Reef Restoration Progress Dashboard
According to the 2021 Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Update, three Maryland tributaries have been restored toward the ten tributaries outcome (Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, and the Tred Avon River). Restoration work in the upper St Mary’s and Manokin rivers started in 2021. 856 acres of the 1,282 acres planned (67%) for active restoration work have been restored in Maryland waters as part of these large-scale oyster reef restoration efforts.
- Harris Creek’s restoration work was completed in 2015 and partners have restored 348 acres of reefs. As of 2021, all three- and six-year post-restoration monitoring is complete. Monitoring results show that the restored reefs are largely successful. For example, of the 14 six-year-old reefs monitored in Harris Creek in winter 2020-21, 100% met the Oyster Metrics minimum threshold success criteria for oyster density and biomass, and 86% met the Oyster Metrics higher target criteria for oyster density and biomass.
- Little Choptank River’s restoration work was completed in 2020, and partners have restored 358 acres of reefs, slightly more than in Harris Creek. Future work will focus on monitoring and, where needed, completing the scheduled second-year-class oyster seedings.
The Tred Avon River’s restoration work was completed in 2021, and partners have restored 130 acres of reefs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District constructed just over 30 acres of reefs in 2021. These reefs were seeded in summer 2021, along with an additional seven acres of seed-only reefs. These together resulted in 37 new acres of reefs in 2021.
- The upper St. Mary’s River’s restoration plan was finalized in March 2020 and calls for 60 acres of reefs to be restored. Thirty-five acres of healthy, high-density oyster reefs already exist. Restoration work started in 2021 with 14 acres of seed-only reefs planted with spat-on-shell. Additionally, Maryland DNR constructed nearly nine acres of reefs from stone substrate. These stone reefs are slated to be seeded with spat-on-shell in 2022. Once these reefs are seeded, the river will be considered initially restored.
- The Manokin River’s restoration plan was finalized in July 2020 and calls for 441 acres of reefs to be restored. Restoration work started in 2021 with 15 acres of seed-only reefs planted with spat-on-shell. Per the Manokin River Restoration Blueprint, this river requires active restoration of the largest number of acres of any of the ten tributaries Bay-wide slated for restoration. Restoration work here will likely take until 2025.
According to the 2021 Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Update, three Virginia tributaries have been restored toward the ten tributaries outcome (the Lafayette, Piankatank, and Great Wicomico rivers). Restoration work is well under way in the remaining two tributaries, the Lower York and Lynnhaven rivers. 355 acres of the 488 acres planned (73%) for active restoration work have been restored in Virginia waters as part of these large-scale oyster reef restoration efforts.
- Lafayette River’s restoration work was completed in 2018, and the tributary is now in the monitoring phase, making it the first river in Virginia to be considered complete under the ten tributaries outcome. The Lafayette River’s restoration plan called for 80 acres of reefs to be restored. Of the 80 acres, 70 acres already met the definition of a restored reef due to older existing restoration projects (22 acres) and historic reefs (48 acres). Going above and beyond the planned restoration work, in 2020, partners installed 405 oyster castles and then seeded them with spat-on-shell.
- The Lynnhaven River restoration plan calls for 152 acres of reefs to be restored. Of this total, 89 acres already met the definition of a restored reef, by virtue of the existing natural oyster population. In. 2021, partners constructed an additional 9 acres of reef, bringing the total acres restored by partners to 25 acres. Partners plan to restore construct 26 acres in 2022.
- The Piankatank River’s restoration work was completed in 2021 with 444 acres of restored reefs, exceeding the restoration plan’s goal of 438 acres of restored reefs. Of this total, 203 acres already met the definition of a restored reef while partners built an additional 241 acres of reefs. Starting as soon as mid-2022, partners plan to construct up to 50 additional acres of reefs in the river.
- The lower York River restoration plan calls for 200 acres of reefs to be restored. Of this total, two acres already met the definition of a restored reef, by virtue of the existing natural oyster population. Partners built an additional 53 acres, bringing the total to 55 restored acres. Partners intend to focus much of its oyster reef construction work in the lower York River in 2022.
- The Great Wicomico River restoration work was completed in 2021 with 124 acres of restored reefs, exceeding the restoration plan’s goal of 122 acres of restored reefs. Prior to the outcome, partners had restored 100 acres of existing reefs. In 2021, partners worked collaboratively to restore the remaining 24 acres.
In 2020, Virginia selected a bonus tributary for restoration, the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River. In 2020, partners constructed 21 acres of reefs in the Eastern Branch, which, when added to previously restored acres, results in the construction of nearly 24 acres of oyster reefs. The Elizabeth River’s Eastern Branch oyster population is considered fully restored. Monitoring will take place at three and six years after construction to assess whether the restored reefs meet the success criteria established in the Oyster Metrics.
Overharvesting, disease and habitat loss 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. Oyster reefs promote clean water and provide food and habitat. In certain situations, they can protect shorelines from some wave energy. For these reasons, oyster reefs may help us prepare for some of the disruptions that climate change can cause.
Tracking our progress toward restoring oyster reefs is critical to understanding our progress toward enhancing climate resiliency.
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 November of 2021. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in November 2023.
Logic & Action Plan
Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.
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)
- Virginia Marine Resources Commission (Commonwealth of Virginia)
- City of Norfolk
- City of Virginia Beach
- Christopher Newport University
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- Virginia Institute of Marine Science
- University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
- 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