CBF staff prepare spat-catcher cages for distributeion later that day at a spat catcher workshop. Photo by CBF StaffCBF staff prepare spat-catcher cages for distributeion later that day at a spat catcher workshop. Photo by CBF Staff

Spat Catcher Program

A unique group of volunteer "spat catchers" is playing a vital role in CBF's efforts to improve the health of the Lafayette River in Norfolk. Each spring, about 80 riverfront residents receive a small cage with 50 clean oyster shells to suspend with a rope from their piers and docks. Over the next five months when oysters spawn, these volunteers hope to attract swimming oyster larvae looking for a hard surface on which to land or "set." Once they do, they are called "spat," or baby oysters.

Later, in October, spat catcher volunteers bring their cages back and help CBF staff tabulate the results by counting the number of spat per shell while recording the precise location of each volunteer's spat catcher cage. The results indicate the most viable places in the river for natural oyster recruitment. CBF's oyster restoration team uses this valuable data to determine the best, most strategic locations for future Lafayette River oyster restoration projects.

After the data is recorded the spat-on-shell oysters are placed on oyster sanctuaries in the Lafayette where they filter water and help restore the river. Once mature, they will spawn millions of other larvae, boosting local oyster populations and improving water quality.

A healthy oyster population is one of the critical components of a larger blueprint to improve the health of the river. Oysters provide habitat and food for many other species. Moreover, they are the river's natural water-filtration system. A single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, removing harmful pollutants and sediment from the water.

This spat catcher program, which started in 2010, is the first of its kind for CBF in Virginia, and has become a very useful tool in our ongoing oyster restoration activities in the Lafayette River. If you live in the Lafayette River watershed and want to become a spat catcher, please contact Jackie Shannon, CBF Oyster Restoration Specialist, jshannon@cbf.org.

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