(HAMPTON ROADS, VA)—After a process led by Norfolk District of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Commonwealth of Virginia named the Lower York and Great Wicomico rivers as its final two oyster restoration sanctuaries. As part of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, Maryland and Virginia each committed to developing and restoring oyster sanctuaries in five tributaries. Restoration has already begun in the Lafayette, Lynnhaven, and Piankatank rivers.
"Restoring the Bay's oyster population is an essential part of Bay restoration efforts, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has supported the choice of these two rivers," said CBF Oyster Restoration Manager Jackie Shannon. "The Great Wicomico has good bottom and spat set, and there are many partners interested in helping restore the Lower York."
Both waterways are ranked in the top tier by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' oyster restoration master plan. Successful restoration projects funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the USACE are thriving in the rivers where restoration efforts have already commenced.
Oysters are one of the Bay's keystone species. They filter the water and provide habitat for many Bay creatures. However, the Bay's oyster population has been devastated by overharvesting, disease, and habitat loss.
The 2014 Bay Agreement calls for fully restored oyster populations in the 10 target tributaries by 2025, and work to restore the Lafayette River's oyster population is close to completion. A CBF survey this fall found healthy oyster densities in each of the eight bars examined, with multiple year classes, an indication of good reproduction and survival.
"Unfortunately, Governor McAuliffe's proposed budget does not include any funding for ecological oyster restoration or any additional money for the state's highly successful replenishment program," said Chris Moore CBF's Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist. "CBF and its partners will work with the General Assembly and Governor-Elect Northam to ensure funding is available for both oyster restoration and to support the oyster industry."