US Army Corps of Engineers
Norfolk District

Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Program

Published Jan. 22, 2019

Project Scope
The purpose of the Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program in Virginia is the restoration and rehabilitation of reef habitat to provide for self-sustaining native oyster populations and associated fish and wildlife habitat within the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Virginia. The lead federal agency is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the non-federal sponsor is the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Norfolk District employee-volunteers and partner Seatack Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Va., have constructed an oyster sanctuary reef along the Elizabeth River shoreline of the district’s waterfront property. (U.S. Army photo/Patrick Bloodgood)
Oyster Reef Sign
Norfolk District employee-volunteers and partner Seatack Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Va., have constructed an oyster sanctuary reef along the Elizabeth River shoreline of the district’s waterfront property. (U.S. Army photo/Patrick Bloodgood)
Photo By: Patrick Bloodgood
VIRIN: 130411-A-OI229-017

Authorization
The Corps’ Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery 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.  This program also strives to achieve the goals established by the Chesapeake Protection Executive Order 13508 and the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement to restore 10 tributaries in Maryland and Virginia by 2025.

Background
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 over-harvesting, parasitic diseases, and loss of habitat.
Contractors working for the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers place fossilized shell, obtained from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, on sanctuary reefs in the Great Wicomico River in Burgess, Virginia. The reefs, originally built in 2004 by the Corps of Engineers, are receiving the new shell as part of an adaptive management/rehabilitation project, which is building them up to a higher level promoting a healthier oyster reef. (U.S. Army photo/Patrick Bloodgood)
Oyster Reef Building
Contractors working for the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers place fossilized shell, obtained from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, on sanctuary reefs in the Great Wicomico River in Burgess, Virginia. The reefs, originally built in 2004 by the Corps of Engineers, are receiving the new shell as part of an adaptive management/rehabilitation project, which is building them up to a higher level promoting a healthier oyster reef. (U.S. Army photo/Patrick Bloodgood)
Photo By: Patrick Bloodgood
VIRIN: 150701-A-OI229-001

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, the Lynnhaven River, and the Piankatank River. Currently restoration efforts of the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, occur throughout Virginia but are focused within five selected tributaries. These five tributaries were identified as priorities for restoration by the USACE Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan (2012) and were later endorsed by the Chesapeake Bay Program and multiple stakeholders:

  • Great Wicomico River
  • Piankatank River
  • Lower York River
  • Lafayette River
  • Lynnhaven River

On-going and upcoming efforts include monitoring of previously constructed oyster reefs, rehabilitating existing reefs, designing future reefs for the Piankatank and Lynnhaven Rivers and baseline tributary planning efforts in the Lower York and Great Wicomico River. In 2018, the Lafayette River was the first tributary in Virginia to be considered “provisionally restored” due to the achievement of 80 acres of functioning reef in this tributary. 

Granite rock, which is brought in by barge, is methodically placed in the Piankatank River near Gwynn’s Island in Mathews County Virginia. The rock is the basis for the newest, 25-acre oyster reef in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is overseeing the more than $2 million sanctuary reef project in partnership with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Nature Conservancy.   (U.S. Army photo/Patrick Bloodgood)
SLIDESHOW | 10 images | A look at reef building Granite rock, which is brought in by barge, is methodically placed in the Piankatank River near Gwynn’s Island in Mathews County Virginia. The rock is the basis for the newest, 25-acre oyster reef in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is overseeing the more than $2 million sanctuary reef project in partnership with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Nature Conservancy. (U.S. Army photo/Patrick Bloodgood)

Public Meeting:

A National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Scoping meeting was conducted on Thursday, January 10, 2019 at the Great Neck Library in Virginia Beach, Virginia for the implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The format of the meeting was an informal open-house, where the public could review presentation boards and ask questions from USACE staff and provide scoping comments on the program. USACE Norfolk is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on the Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program in Virginia.

Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program Commonwealth of Virginia Purpose
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program Commonwealth of Virginia Purpose
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program Commonwealth of Virginia Purpose
Photo By: Sherry Perry
VIRIN: 190122-A-A1420-101
Why Restore The Eastern Oyster
Why Restore The Eastern Oyster
Why Restore The Eastern Oyster
Photo By: Sherry Perry
VIRIN: 190122-A-A1420-102
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program Commonwealth of Virginia Tributaries
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program Commonwealth of Virginia Tributaries
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program Commonwealth of Virginia Tributaries
Photo By: Sherry Perry
VIRIN: 190122-A-A1420-103
Potential Measures for Reef Restoration and Rehabilitation
Potential Measures for Reef Restoration and Rehabilitation
Potential Measures for Reef Restoration and Rehabilitation
Photo By: Sherry Perry
VIRIN: 190122-A-A1420-107
Topics to be examined in the NEPA document
Topics to be examined in the NEPA document
Topics to be examined in the NEPA document
Photo By: Sherry Perry
VIRIN: 190122-A-A1420-106
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Public Input During Scoping Meetings.
Public Input During Scoping
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery Program for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Public Input During Scoping Meetings.
Photo By: Sherry Perry
VIRIN: 190122-A-A1420-105
A graphic depicting the Problems, Opportunities, Objectives and Considerations for the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Program.
Problems Opportunities, Objective and Considerations
A graphic depicting the Problems, Opportunities, Objectives and Considerations for the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Program.
Photo By: Sherry Perry
VIRIN: 190122-A-A1420-104


Latest News

Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Public Scoping Meeting
1/8/2019
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) invites the public to attend a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Scoping meeting for the implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Recovery...
Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Restoration Project, Piankatank River Public Meeting
3/5/2015
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers invites the community to attend a public meeting Tuesday, March 17, to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Native Oyster Restoration Project, Piankatank River, Draft...

Timeline

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.


Project Contact


U.S. Arny Corps of Engineers logo803 Front Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
757-201-7606