Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Program

Project Manager

Heather Lockwood
Project Manager | Biologist 
Programs & Civil Works Branch
Norfolk District, USACE
803 Front Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
757-201-7271
email

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.


Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Program

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.

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.

Section 704(b) WRDA 1986 - Original authority $5M

Section 505 WRDA 1996 – increase program authorization from $5M to $7M and adds Virginia

Section 342 WRDA 2000 – increase program authorization from $7M to $30M

Section 5021 WRDA 2007 – increase program authorization from $30M to $50M

Section 4010(b) WRRDA 2014 – increase program authorization from $50M to $60M

Section 1180 WRDA 2016 – increase program authorization from $60M to $100M

 

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.

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. 

 

Public Scoping 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.

 

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...