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Oyster Restoration

Project Scope
The purpose of the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration projects are to restore oyster habitat and populations in 20 tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 as established in
Executive Order 13508. To achieve this goal, oyster habitat must be protected and restored, and populations of oysters must increase substantially.

The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts three initiatives relating to the presence of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay:

• Construct projects designed to establish sustainable breeding populations of native oysters in sanctuaries in Virginia.

• Create a joint Norfolk District-Baltimore District Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Master Plan to outline a long-term plan for large-scale native oyster restoration.

• Prepare an oyster environmental impact statement (EIS) that will evaluate ongoing native restoration efforts and the possible introduction of a non-native oyster species.

The Corps’ Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration program was authorized by section 704(b) of the
Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1986, as amended by Section 342. The program was formulated based on coordination and consultation among many project partners and stakeholders, federal and state resource agencies, watermen, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the academic community and interested citizens, as well as non-profit groups such as Oyster Recovery Partnership, Virginia Seafood Council, Lynnhaven River Now and others.

When Captain John Smith arrived with the first English settlers to the New World in 1607, he noted that oysters were so ubiquitous in the Chesapeake Bay (a name translated from the Native American words for “great shellfish bay”) that they lay “as thick as stones.” As recently as 100 years ago, huge oyster reefs posed navigational hazards to ships in the area. These historic populations, dubbed “Chesapeake Gold” by watermen, not only supported a booming oyster industry in Virginia and Maryland, but served the ecosystem by filtering water in the Bay and providing habitat and food for other creatures.

Oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay have experienced a severe decline, beginning in the late 1800’s. Today, oyster population levels and biomass are less than 1 percent of historic levels. This decline has been primarily due to overharvesting, parasitic diseases, and loss of habitat.

Oysters are a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Oysters are filter feeders and have the potential to significantly increase water quality by removing suspended solids, organic particles, and phytoplankton from the water, which directly increases water clarity and quality. They also provide important structure and habitat in the form of oyster reefs, which attract a wide variety of fish species and other aquatic life.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been actively involved in oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay since 1996. Since 2001, sanctuaries have been constructed in the Rappahannock River, Tangier/Pocomoke Sound, Great Wicomico River, and the Lynnhaven River.

On-going and upcoming efforts include surveying of fossil shell resources, modeling to determine the environmental benefits of rotational harvest management regimes, monitoring of previously constructed oyster reefs, rehabilitation of existing reefs in the Great Wicomico, and pre-construction activities for oyster restoration in other Virginia tributaries.

The Corps mission is the ecological restoration of the oyster and is focused on increasing the population of native (Crassostrea virginica) oysters. As a result, the project will focus on restoring oysters in sanctuaries that are free from fishing. 

The oyster restoration plan includes the creation of new oyster reefs, rehabilitation of non-productive reefs, development of seed-producing reefs, planting of disease-resistant seed oysters, and follow-on project monitoring. The use of disease -esistant strains of the native oyster such as DEBY, Crossbred, and possibly other disease-resistant varieties of the native species will be used, such as field-selected wild Lynnhaven River oysters.

The Norfolk District became involved with the program in 2001 and has completed three projects: the Rappahannock River, Tangier/Pocomoke Sound and the Great Wicomico River, as well as the first phase of a construction effort in the Lynnhaven River.

Authorized by Congress each year.

The schedule is based on funding.



Click here to find out more about the oyster restoration efforts with the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which began in 1999-2000.

Virginia Tributaries

Project Contact

U.S. Arny Corps of Engineers logo803 Front Street
Norfolk, VA 23510