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Restoring Oyster Reefs

In 2010, Chesapeake Bay Program partners embarked on a tributary-based restoration strategy that focuses on the large-scale restoration of oyster reefs in Maryland and Virginia waterways. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement oyster outcome aims to restore and protect oyster reefs in 10 tributaries by 2025. Six tributaries have been selected for large-scale oyster restoration, and restoration work has begun in four of these tributaries.

Oyster Reefs

July 27, 2011

March 2013: Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River on Maryland’s eastern shore, is the initial site of one of the largest restoration projects ever undertaken in the Chesapeake Bay. Interviews include Mike Naylor (Maryland Department of Natural Resources), Stephanie Reynolds Westby and Jay Lazar (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Claire O’Neil and Jeff Price (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), Melissa Grant (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Oyster Hatchery) and Doug West (Oyster Recovery Partnership).
Closed Captions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8TNeusghYs


Restoring oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay is a primary part of our strategy to increase native oyster populations and the benefits these reefs provide to fish and shellfish. To rebuild reefs, both oyster shell and alternative materials for oysters to settle and grow upon (like granite, fossil shell or crushed concrete) are placed on hard-bottom areas in select tributaries. Hatchery-raised oyster larvae, called spat, are planted on both natural and man-made reefs. Many of these rebuilt reefs are designated as oyster sanctuaries and protected from harvest.

Restoring reefs has the potential to increase populations of spawning adult oysters and, in turn, larval production. Oyster reefs also provide important ecosystem services to the Bay, as the reefs offer habitat to invertebrates and fish and filter-feeding oysters improve water quality.


The Bay Program has a target of restoring oyster reefs in 10 tributaries by 2025 to recover the habitat and water quality benefits that healthy reefs provide.

As of 2014, six tributaries have been selected for oyster restoration: Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River in Maryland, and the Lynnhaven, Lafayette and Piankatank rivers in Virginia.

The Maryland and Virginia Oyster Restoration Interagency Workgroups of the Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team (GIT) are responsible for identifying tributaries for restoration and developing Oyster Restoration Tributary Plans for each waterway, in consultation with partners and scientists. Workgroup members include representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Baltimore and Norfolk districts, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, state agencies (including the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission), local organizations and consulting scientists.

Additional Information

Disease, poor water quality, habitat loss and harvest pressure have limited the success of oyster habitat restoration techniques.

The Oyster Metric Team, once a workgroup under the Sustainable Fisheries GIT, was formed to offer guidance and oversight in aligning restoration efforts and objectives. Team members included representatives from the federal government, the state of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and academic institutions. The group developed common, Bay-wide restoration goals; metrics to evaluate the success of restoration work; and goals for monitoring and assessment. The team’s final report provides consistent guidance to oyster restoration efforts throughout the Bay and continues to be used as a guide for planning and evaluating restoration efforts.

Learn more from the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan.

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