The result will be cleaner water and creation of jobs that will help local economies, says the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the organization spearheading the new Chesapeake 10 Billion Oysters Partnership.
“Oysters are so much more than the tasty bivalves that many know them to be. They are a crucial part of our ocean planet,” said John Racanelli, National Aquarium chief executive officer. “They help keep our waterways clean by removing harmful pollutants and they provide a hospitable place for other animals to live—from the backwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to the vast Atlantic Ocean. We’re proud to collaborate with the Chesapeake 10 Billion Oyster Partnership to revitalize the national treasure that is the Chesapeake Bay.”
The 10 billion oysters will come from a combination of expanded restoration activities, fishery repletion activities, and the continued growth of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster aquaculture industry.
In recent years, the pace and scale of oyster restoration has been greatly accelerated by state and federal agencies’ efforts, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources, working with groups including the Oyster Recovery Partnership to implement the Chesapeake Bay Program goal of restoring 10 Bay tributaries by 2025.
The Chesapeake 10 Billion Oysters Partnership has established as its top three priorities ensuring robust funding for oyster restoration, establishing sound science-based management that ensures sustainable harvest of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population, and expanding the oyster aquaculture industries in Maryland and Virginia.
“Scientists have been doing research on oysters in the Chesapeake for almost 150 years. The evidence continues to grow about the importance of abundant oyster populations for water quality, biological productivity and diversity, shoreline integrity and the resilience of this great ecosystem,” said Don Boesch, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Professor and President Emeritus. “Oyster reef restoration efforts over the past five years have been very successful in producing dense populations that are surviving, reproducing and adding greatly to the supply of oyster larvae in the Bay.”
Oyster aquaculture is said to provide many of the same environmental benefits as wild oysters, including filtering algae and sediment as they grow to market size. Industry partners also note that aquaculture’s continued growth will create jobs and provide economic benefits to coastal communities.
“As a waterman and oyster farming entrepreneur, I’ve witnessed the power and potential for aquaculture to transform a disappearing economy into a thriving industry that will play a substantial role in achieving our 10 Billion goal,” said Johnny Shockley, Founding Partner, Hoopers Island Oyster Co. “This partnership promotes small business, creates jobs and maintains oyster growers’ long-term viability. We see a future when the Chesapeake once again leads the world in seafood production with hundreds of oyster farms and a sustainable public fishery that preserves our heritage and builds a billion-dollar industry.”
The 10 billion oyster goal relies heavily on commitments that Maryland and Virginia made to restore oyster populations in five tributaries in each state by 2025. As the partnership creates new volunteer restoration opportunities, it will also provide new voices in support of state and federal efforts to restore oyster populations.
Local and regional organizations play a critical role as well. Lynnhaven River NOW has a comprehensive approach to restoring the Lynnhaven. They educate, advocate to reduce polluted runoff, and they are actively restoring the river’s oyster population.
“In many ways bringing back the Lynnhaven oyster has defined the work of our organization,” said Karen Forget, Executive Director of Lynnhaven NOW. “Our work in reducing pollutants entering the river is measured by the areas open to shellfish harvest and those areas have grown from 1% in 2002 to 46% in 2018.”
The new partnership says that the Lafayette River is a prime example of what partners can achieve when they work together. The use of reef balls, as well as reefs seeded with oysters grown by oyster gardeners, has the Lafayette on track to be the first river in Virginia with a restored oyster population.
“We will never achieve a restored and healthy Bay until we restore the Bay’s oysters,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said. “This partnership will help make that happen.”