CBF experiment: a large man-made oyster reef that revives the dead zone

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) today began a first-of-its kind experiment in Maryland: build and monitor a giant man-made oyster reef to test whether such reefs can break up dead zones of low oxygen. The project is part of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance initiative to add 10 billion new oysters to the Chesapeake by 2025.

“We know historic oyster reefs grew up into the water column. They likely looked more like mini Manhattan skylines than the flat oyster beds we think of today. This project will test whether man-made oyster reefs with vertical structure agitate currents and break up dead zones” said CBF Maryland Fisheries Scientist Dr. Allison Colden.

CBF today deployed the first of 240 concrete reef balls at a site above the Rt. 50 Severn River Bridge. The balls are only two-feet tall, but they might offer enough resistance to existing river currents to create turbulence, and increase dissolved oxygen. Traditional oyster reefs would have grown much higher, but those were knocked down over many decades of oyster harvesting.

CBF will monitor the reef through the summer, in partnership with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the Naval Academy.

Research already has demonstrated that oyster reefs with vertical structure create rich habitat for fish and other marine life, and also filter water. This reef project will test whether such reefs offer the additional benefit of breaking up low-oxygen zones where fish and other creatures can’t live.

The site of the project is called Winchester Lump. It is a rise in the river bottom where an historic oyster reef once existed. In the summer oxygen levels plunge at the Lump as they do in many areas around the Bay as algae blooms fed by nutrient pollution die off and rob the water of oxygen. Dr. Andrew Muller of the Oceanography Department of the U.S. Naval Academy, and CBF Senior Naturalist John Page Williams have documented hypoxia at the site. With concrete balls added to the top of the Lump, the reef may achieve enough height to agitate currents, and increase oxygen levels.

The reef balls also were set with an estimated 400,000 baby oysters at CBF’s Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side. CBF has been using the concrete balls for years as an artificial home for oysters. Larvae attach themselves to the concrete much like they would to traditional reefs made of old shell. While mortality is an expected feature of all oyster reefs, other man-made reefs in the Severn River have survived and thrived.

The main difference in this reef project, however, is that sophisticated underwater equipment provided by UMCES will monitor the impact of the 240 balls on currents. CBF also will monitor for dissolved oxygen and other conditions at the reef during the summer when hypoxia, or low oxygen, is typically at its worst. Those results will be compared to monitoring data taken prior to reef construction.

The Chesapeake Oyster Alliance is a broad partnership designed to spark governmental action, public attention, and funding to accelerate ongoing oyster restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. The ambitious goal of this collaborative effort is to add 10 billion new oysters by 2025 in Virginia and Maryland waters.

The Winchester Lump project not only will add potentially 400,000 oysters to the Alliance goal, but could create significant motivation to accelerate oyster restoration in the Chesapeake given the multiple benefits of oyster reefs.

Former Riverkeeper Tom Leigh to Help Eastern Shore Localities

Tom Leigh, a former local Riverkeeper and Chesapeake Bay Trust program director, has been hired as a clean water expert to counsel multiple Eastern Shore localities. Leigh will provide technical support to four municipalities and two counties as they reduce water pollution. Much like small churches on the Shore used to share a circuit rider preacher, the localities will share Leigh’s expertise on cleaning up local creeks.

Leigh’s position is being funded through a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction grants program, as well as matching funds from the six localities and the Maryland Department of the Environment. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) spearheaded the creation of the position, and applied for the grant. Leigh technically will be an employee of CBF during the three-year grant period, but he will directly support the six localities in their efforts to reduce water pollution, and clean up local creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

“This is an exciting beginning of a new model for cooperation and cost savings in cleaning up Eastern Shore water,” said Alan Girard, director of the CBF Eastern Shore Office.

The new position to be occupied by Leigh is one part of a wider collaboration between the localities to reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, and other hard surfaces. This is the only major source of water pollution that is rising in Maryland. Finding ways to reduce runoff once a landscape is developed is challenging. The six localities decided that sharing resources to address this problem is more efficient and effective. The collaborative was born from a series of discussions hosted by local officials and partners called the Healthy Waters Round Table.

The six localities are Talbot and Queen Anne’s counties, and the municipalities of Easton, Salisbury, Oxford and Cambridge.

Leigh was a natural choice to serve as a shared expert by the localities. He formerly held positions as a water quality advocate with the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy and the Chester River Association. He also worked as the director of programs and partnerships for the Chesapeake Bay Trust, managing a significant portion of the organization’s grant portfolio. Leigh served as an independent contractor for the University of Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology in Queenstown where he developed a compendium of pollution-reduction practices for local governments, organizations and private landowners. Earlier in his career, Leigh also was a project manager for Environmental Concern, Inc. in St. Michaels. He has lived most of his life on the Eastern Shore.

“With Tom’s leadership, CBF will work seamlessly with our partner counties and towns on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to plan, prioritize, and streamline projects that control polluted runoff,” Girard said. “Tom also will leverage new resources. Our goal is to clean our water faster, and to test a model for locally-shared technical service that can be replicated throughout Maryland and beyond.”

This work is made possible by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction grants program, which supports efforts within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to accelerate nutrient and sediment reductions with innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective approaches.

CBF Annual Photo Contest Gets Under Way

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) 13th annual watershed photo contest is now underway. Photo submissions are being accepted between now and April 6. Photographers of all skill levels are encouraged to participate to win cash prizes of from $100 to $500, and to have their photos featured in CBF’s award-winning publications.

We are seeking photographs that illustrate the positive aspects of the Bay and its rivers and streams. We want to see your vision of the Bay region—from Pennsylvania to Virginia, from the Shenandoah Mountains to the Eastern Shore. Images depicting people, wildlife, recreation, and farms within the watershed will all be considered. All photos must include water from the Chesapeake Bay or a river, stream, creek, or other body of water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“I am always amazed by the talent the contestants show in their photos,” said Jennifer Wallace, CBF managing editor and contest organizer. “It’s wonderful to see how connected and aware people are of our great rivers, streams, and the Bay.”

All winners will receive a one-year membership to CBF and winning photos may be displayed on CBF’s website, in a CBF e-newsletter, in CBF’s 2019 calendar, and in CBF’s award-winning magazine, Save the Bay.

Judging will be conducted by a panel of CBF employees on the basis of subject matter, composition, focus, lighting, uniqueness, and impact. The public will also be able to vote online for their favorite photo in the Viewers’ Choice Gallery, starting April 16.

Last year the judges considered more than 1,000 entries. Participation in the Viewers’ Choice Award was outstanding, too, with more than 2,400 votes cast.

Contest rules and details are available online at cbf.org/photocontest.

CBF Notes: How About Home-Grown Oysters and Wine?

Crabs and Old Bay. Rockfish and lemon butter. Crab cakes and tartar sauce. The bounty of the Chesapeake Bay presents plenty of delectable combinations.

What about a new tradition: home-grown oysters and wine?

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) invites you to “Oysters & Wine on the Eastern Shore” on Sunday, Jan. 21 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. to learn how this unconventional pair is perfect together, and also to learn about oyster farming on the Shore, and other oyster-related issues.

The event will be held at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center, 114 South Washington Street, Easton.

Oyster aquaculture is a rapidly growing industry on the Shore, thanks in part to a 2010 change in state policy that created new opportunities for oyster farming. The state has approved about 400 shellfish aquaculture leases for 173 different leaseholders covering about 6,100 acres. It’s a $5 million industry, and growing, with production increased 1,000 percent since 2012.

Listen to local oyster growers tell their stories, and enjoy a selection of farmed oysters paired with a variety of wines, champagne, and craft beer. Heavy hors d’oeuvres, Smith Island cake, music by local favorite Kentavious Jones, and a CBF membership are all included in the ticket price–$35 with advance purchase at cbf.org/oystersandwine.

Oysters will be featured from Orchard Point Oyster Company, Hoopers Island Oyster Company, and Madhouse Oysters. Representatives from those oyster farms will be present to speak and answer questions. Oyster policy experts and scientists will also be on hand to provide information.

Johnny Shockley, a founding partner in Hoopers Island Oyster Company, recently hosted staff and board members from CBF at his new hatchery, the state’s first large private oyster hatchery built in decades. The 12,000-square-foot building is a sign of the potential growth in the industry on the Shore. The company plans to produce 700 million oyster larvae a year, some of which will be used to grow its own oysters, and some of which will be sold to other growers. Hoopers just announced the beginning of such sales this month.

A third-generation waterman from Hoopers Island, Shockley crabbed and harvested wild oysters for 30 years. His goal is not only to grow the aquaculture industry in Maryland, but also to revive the local Eastern Shore economy, and help create a sustainable oyster population.

If you are like us, you will find Johnny’s remarks, as well as those of other oyster farmers, fascinating. They also will show you the best way to eat an oyster. There’s more to it than you might think!

Tom Zolper is the assistant media director at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Exelon’s Share for Mitigation on the Conowingo Dam by Tom Zolper

The Conowingo Dam 20 miles north of the mouth of the Susquehanna River has been the focus of scientific scrutiny and concern since the 1990s, and public worry for the past five years. The reason is simple: the pond behind the dam that trapped dirt for decades now has filled up.

More of the dirt (also called sediment) and phosphorus clinging to the dirt are reaching downstream water. In addition, storms scour sediment and associated nutrients from the pond and flush it downstream.

These additional pollutant loads are a problem because we already have too much phosphorus and nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay – from farms, sewage plants, and other sources. These chemicals are plant food, causing algae blooms that suck oxygen from the water when they die and decompose. The added sediment coming through the dam also is a concern for effects on downstream habitats.

When Bay states and the federal government agreed in 2010 to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake —the so-called Bay pollution diet—they thought we had more time to deal with the situation at the Conowingo. We don’t. What to do?

In 2015 the U.S. Army Corps said the most cost-effective solution was to reduce pollution reaching the dam from upstream in Pennsylvania and New York. Governor Hogan has also proposed a small $4 million pilot program to see if dredging at the pond could also be a part of the solution.

Whatever is determined to be the best solution or set of solutions, one thing is clear: it will cost more money. That’s why a new report commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) offers some good news: The owner of the dam can help chip in.

The report, “An Economic Analysis of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Generating Station,” concluded Exelon can afford to contribute $27 million to $44 million a year to help fix or mitigate the problem and still make a healthy profit. The study used publicly available finance numbers about Exelon’s operations at the dam, as well as standard industry information. It was prepared for Water Power Law Group and CBF and TNC but researched and written by Energy+Environmental Economics in California. Exelon to date has offered to contribute only $200,000.

The company shouldn’t be responsible for the whole solution. It didn’t cause pollution from upstream farms, sewage plants and other sources to discharge into the Susquehanna and flow downstream.

While it is important to hold Exelon accountable for the impact of the dam on downstream water quality and habitat, it’s important to keep the Conowingo issue in context. First, the impacts of the lost trapping capacity and scouring during storm events are significant but not catastrophic. In fact, as the situation at the dam has worsened for the past few years, the water quality in the Bay has steadily been improving.

Also, studies show that the slug of new pollution moving past the dam will cause effects primarily on the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay. Most rivers that feed the Bay such as the Choptank, Nanticoke and others will not be impacted, nor will the thousands of fresh water streams in Maryland. Local counties and communities will remain responsible for cleaning up pollution in their backyards.

So, we can’t blame Conowingo for all our water woes. The dam is only one of many problems we face trying to clean up the Bay. But we can ask Exelon to do its share, just as we ask everyone else to pitch in. We know the company can afford it.

Tom Zolper is the assistant media director at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

CBF Introduces New Financing Tool to Help Bay Communities Reduce Pollution

Reducing polluted runoff from urban and suburban roads, rooftops, and parking lots is an expensive task. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), in partnership with Quantified Ventures and with support from The Kresge Foundation and other funders, is inviting municipalities in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to participate in a pilot project to implement natural solutions that reduce urban/suburban runoff that damages local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. The application process opened September 15 and closes October 31.

“We understand that reducing polluted runoff is often difficult and expensive and we want to make it easier and more effective for communities in the Bay watershed to meet their clean water goals,” said CBF Vice President Kim Coble. “Because some local governments and lenders may be less familiar with implementing natural solutions, these kinds of projects may be seen as riskier and more difficult to finance.”

For the pilot project, CBF is helping municipalities take advantage of a new financial tool pioneered by Quantified Ventures and DC Water called the Environmental Impact Bond (EIB). In 2016, DC Water used an Environmental Impact Bond structure to privately finance and share the risk for implementing natural solutions to manage stormwater runoff into the Potomac River.

The EIB allowed the utility to raise funds from impact investors Goldman Sachs and the Calvert Foundation to finance projects such as permeable pavement and bioswales—which mimic natural processes, may be more cost-effective than traditional “gray” infrastructure, and can provide additional community benefits such as reducing local flooding, improving climate resiliency, and creating local jobs.

“We think the DC Water example shows promise so we are excited to help CBF test this model around the Bay region at no extra cost to our municipal partners,” said Todd Appel of Quantified Ventures. “Polluted runoff is the only major source of pollution that is still increasing, and in some urban and suburban areas is the leading cause of damage to local rivers and streams.”

An Environmental Impact Bond provides up-front capital for environmental projects. In its most basic form, a municipality or municipal entity (such as a municipal utility) issues Environmental Impact Bonds and sells them to private investors to obtain financing to pay the cost of environmental projects.

The municipal issuer is required to pay interest on the bonds and to repay the principal amount of the bonds on scheduled payment dates.

The EIBs follow a Pay for Success model. After an evaluation period, if the project reduces significantly more pollution than expected the investor receives a higher rate of return. If the project reduces significantly less pollution than anticipated the investors will receive a lower rate of return.

“In our pilot program, we will coordinate with up to four local jurisdictions’ financial advisors toward the creation of an Environmental Impact Bond or loan tailored to their community’s financial and environmental needs to implement green infrastructure solutions,” said Coble.

“CBF has been a strong partner with our local government clients in supporting water quality funding, and we applaud CBF’s effort to pilot this idea in diverse localities across the watershed,” said Chris Pomeroy, president of the AquaLaw law firm and counsel to the Virginia and Maryland Municipal Stormwater Associations. For more information, go to www.cbf.org/eib where you can view an earlier recorded webinar about this project, download a brochure, or submit an application.

About the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

With offices in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia and 15 field centers, CBF leads the way in restoring the Bay and its rivers and streams. For more than 50 years, we have created broad understanding of the Bay’s poor health, engaged public leaders in making commitments to restore the Chesapeake, and fought successfully to create a new approach to cleanup that features real accountability—the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. For more information, visit www.cbf.org.

About Quantified Ventures

Quantified Ventures is a for-profit impact investing firm that helps clients finance specific and measurable environmental, health, and educational outcomes. Founded by Eric Letsinger, a “tri-sector” executive bringing 25+ years of leadership experience, QV pioneered the first ever Environmental Impact Bond with DC Water in 2016. Based in DC, the entrepreneurial team thrives on fresh thinking, measured risk, and strong coffee. For more information, visit www.quantifiedventures.com.

About Kresge

CBF’s Green Infrastructure Environmental Impact Bond project, assisted by Quantified Ventures, is supported in part by a generous grant from The Kresge Foundation. The Kresge Foundation is a $3.5 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2016, the Board of Trustees approved 474 grants totaling $141.5 million, and made 14 social investment commitments totaling $50.8 million. For more information, visit www.kresge.org.

Diversity matters in this different kind of fishing tournament

A different kind of fishing tournament here on Oct. 7 will give anglers advanced notice of the best fishing spots in the area, and will award prizes for the diversity of fish netted, not just size. It’s the Rod & Reef Slam, a celebration of the Chesapeake Bay fisherman’s best friend: an oyster reef.

Sponsored by Coastal Conservation Association, Maryland; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF); the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative; and NOAA, the Slam is taking registrations here and at hgibson@cbf.org and 302-388-7659.

The late Clint Waters of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association (MSSA) used to tell his fellow anglers that “the best fishing hole” in the Choptank River was a place called Cook’s Point. Waters wasn’t telling fish stories when he reported that he routinely caught up to seven different species there: striped bass, hardhead, white perch, spot, and more. Some fishermen have even snagged legal black sea bass, fish rarely seen around the Chesapeake over the past 100 years.

Cook’s Point is an oyster reef near the mouth of the Choptank – a man-made reef at that. It is one of three such reefs that anglers will fish on at the Rod & Reef Slam. The others are Harris Creek and the Tilghman Island Artificial Reef just outside Knapps Narrows.

“Fish love oyster reefs like humans like a buffet line. As a result, recreational fishermen also love oyster reefs,” said John Page Williams, a CBF naturalist and widely known angler.

Oysters are called a keystone species in the Chesapeake. Oyster reefs are more than just mounds of shell; they form a foundation of the entire Bay ecosystem. They filter the water. And the intricate latticework of shells provides vital habitat for many small plants and animals that make their homes on reefs. Barnacles, mussels, and bryozoans attach to the oyster shells. Other animals like redbeard sponges, flower-like anemones, and feathery hydroids branch out into the water. Mobile invertebrates such as mud crabs, oyster drills and grass shrimp inhabit the nooks and crannies. Small fish like blennies, gobies and skillet-fish feed on the reefs, and attract larger animals such as striped bass and blue crabs.

But the benefits of these reefs are sometimes lost in debates about the cost of restoring oysters in Maryland. Some critics have questioned the tens of millions of dollars (mostly in federal money) that has been spent to restore over nearly 600 acres of oyster reefs in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River.

These man-made reefs are showing real promise in their primary job: growing oysters. The latest report about on the Harris Creek project, for instance, found 97 percent of the area meeting minimal density standards for a restored reef, and 80 percent meeting optimal standards.

But just as the Harris Creek reef seems to be doing so well, some critics are questioning the state’s plan to finish large projects on the Little Choptank, and Tred Avon, as well as man-made reefs planned for the future.

The Rod & Reef Slam is meant to remind us of the benefits from such projects. Recreational fishermen typically understand those benefits. For instance, the Dorchester Chapter of the MSSA (of which Clint Waters was president) partnered with CBF and the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative to submerge more than 650 “reef balls” with baby oysters below the Bill Burton fishing pier in Cambridge – to attract fish.

Where you find oysters, you’ll find fish, and fishermen.

The tournament cost is $50, which covers entry fee, after party food, giveaways, live entertainment and access to a cash bar. Youth ages 16 and under may participate for free with a participating adult. Tickets for $10 are available for after party food and entertainment only. Lines in will be 6:45 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 and lines out 2:30 p.m. Powerboat, kayak, and youth divisions. More information here or at 302-388-7659 or hgibson@cbf.org.

CBF on the Shore: Harris Creek Update and Rod and Reef Slam

It’s safe to say that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation – or anyone concerned with the health of our local waterways and its critters – is interested in how Harris Creek is doing. It’s the largest known man-made oyster reef in the world. While the project’s success will be measured over the course of many years, early monitoring reports out now begin to indicate whether the restoration is meeting expectations.

It was great news when reports showed that by and large oyster restoration is remarkably successful in Harris Creek. It is meeting scientifically determined thresholds for success, and then some. Eighty percent of the reefs in some areas of the creek are meeting the optimal threshold of 50 oysters per square meter. While the Spy has its doubts about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s claim there were no staff celebrations on this news, the CBF message was clear in talking to Alan Girard, CBF’s Eastern Shore Director, and Allison Colden, its Maryland Fisheries Scientist, that this is not the time for a victory party.

As Alan and Allison discuss in their Spy interview last week, the Harris Creek project still has many serious hurdles to pass over before any real success can be declared. Nonetheless, both Alan and Allison can’t hide their genuine excitement with the latest monitoring results.

Alan also talks about CBF’s upcoming, Harris Creek Rod and Reef Slam which turns out to be not your average fishing tournament.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Harris Creek project or the Rod and Reef Slam please go here

The Most Important Fish in the Bay Needs Help

Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on September 6, 6:30 p.m. at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in downtown Easton for an evening of all things menhaden. CBF is screening the short film Menhaden: The Most Important Fish in the Bay, followed by a discussion of the current state of the fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. CBF’s Maryland Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden will describe the critical role that menhaden play in the Bay’s food web and answer questions from the audience. One lucky audience member will walk away with a fun and fishy CBF gift basket.

Menhaden face potential new threats along the Atlantic coast. Right now, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responding by considering revisions to its fishery management plan. One proposed amendment to the plan could help keep more fish in the water by including important guidelines—called “ecological reference points.” These will help fishery managers ensure that enough of these essential fish remain in the water, serving their role as a vital food source.

Any threat to this critical fish is also a threat to the countless Chesapeake critters who rely on it. Learn more about the current state of this fishery and what you can do to help on September 6. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at cbf.org/MenhadenFilm. Contact Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or 410/543-1999 with questions.

If you can’t make the event, you can still make your voice heard. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, September 18 from 6-8:00p.m. at Anne Arundel Community College, Cade Center for the Fine Arts – Room 219, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD. Written comments on ASMFC’s Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden will be accepted through October 20, 2017. Comments can be sent to comments@asmfc.org (Subject line: Draft Amd. 3).

 

Op-Ed: The Good and Bad News on Oyster Restoration by CBF’s Tom Zolper

New scientific information unveiled Monday, July 10 provides yet more encouraging news that the largest man-made oyster restoration project in the Chesapeake Bay is working. The project is in Harris Creek.

Unfortunately, just as the investment in Harris Creek seems to be paying off, efforts to duplicate that success in two other tributaries of the Choptank River are hitting snags. Political pressure and substrate shortages threaten to bring restoration efforts to a screeching halt if the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not act quickly.

First the good news. New monitoring data indicate that 30 oyster reefs created in 2013 in Harris Creek have high densities of oysters, reported Stephanie Reynolds Westby, Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Westby reported the findings at the monthly meeting of the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC). The NOAA report can be found here.

Scientists have developed specific metrics to determine when an oyster reef can be officially called “restored.” About 97 percent of the 30 reefs planted in 2013 in Harris Creek met the minimum metric for oyster density, and 80 percent met a higher “targeted” density. In fact, only one of the 30 reefs failed to meet the metrics. OAC members speculated someone could have poached oysters off that reef, or that the seabed underneath could have been too muddy for the oysters to thrive.

Despite data to the contrary, some OAC members challenged the conclusion that a restoration project is successful simply because it achieves metrics such as oyster density and biomass. They said putting oysters in the water and having them grow and prosper is not enough. The real success will be if oysters at Harris Creek reproduce, and their larvae help seed oyster bars miles away where oystermen harvest. Some scientific modeling from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has suggested that could happen.

Scientists at the OAC meeting said a restored reef is successful even if it doesn’t seed far-away oyster reefs. They said a massive network of reefs such as in Harris Creek will attract fish, filter the water and provide other ecological benefits. Harris Creek is a “sanctuary reef,” meaning oysters can’t be harvested there.
Now the bad news. Also at the OAC meeting, officials with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) revealed oyster restoration in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers have hit political snags. Those two projects were meant to duplicate the success in Harris Creek – building large networks of man-made reefs where oysters had once thrived.

Chris Judy of DNR reported that the plan for Maryland to restore 118 acres in the shallow reaches of Little Choptank is still on hold. For several years DNR has delayed requesting a permit for the work, most recently after complaints from watermen representatives. Restoration work at the mouth of the river has nearly been completed by various partners, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but DNR has long delayed doing its part.

DNR recently asked NOAA experts to further survey the bottom of the river where restoration was planned to find additional suitable acres for restoration in deeper water. Initial estimates suggest that there may be as few as 20-30 acres of suitable area in deeper water, meaning a permit would still be required to complete the project. Because of these political delays and additional surveys, Judy estimated that construction in the Little Choptank won’t begin for a least a year, bringing restoration in the Little Choptank to a halt.

Also at the OAC meeting, Angie Sowers of USACE said her agency had to stop construction in the Tred Avon because of a shortage of mixed shell substrate. The Corps’ contractor was only able to complete 6 out of 10 planned acres. The use of mixed shell instead of other materials in the Tred Avon was a result of negotiations at the OAC after watermen halted restoration work there in 2016. When questioned at the OAC meeting, Sowers said the work could have proceeded with stone.

Ironically, within the new data on Harris Creek was a finding that oysters were growing to densities four times greater on rock substrate than they were on traditional oyster shell. The very thing that watermen object to in reef construction might be the best substance. A recent article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal reported that watermen in Virginia also have discovered the benefit of rock foundations for reefs. But Maryland watermen remain resistant because they claim rock substrate makes it difficult to catch crabs in the area with trot lines, or causes other problems.

Tom Zolper is Assistant Director of Media Relations at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. For more information about CBF please go here.