Sunday, April 15, 2012

Army Corps Presents Ambitious Plan for Oyster Restoration in Chesapeake Bay

The Army Corps of Engineers has released an ambitious plan for restoring oysters to Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Oyster Recovery: Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan targets 19 areas, 11 in Maryland and eight in Virginia, for restoration. Those waterways include the Eastern Bay, Tangier Sound and the Nanticoke, Choptank and Chester rivers in Maryland. The Pocomoke, Rappahannock and James rivers are among the areas in Virginia.

The goal of the program is "Throughout the Chesapeake Bay, restore an abundant, self-sustaining oyster population that performs important ecological functions such as providing reef community habitat, nutrient
cycling, spatial connectivity, and water filtration, among others, and contributes to an oyster fishery."

Additionally, the plan also calls for sanctuaries where harvesting won't be allowed covering 20 percent to 40 percent of historic habitat.

The report goes on to highlight 7 advantages of oysters.The ecosystem services provided by oysters are numerous (Grabowski and Peterson 2007), but largely difficult to quantify at this stage of restoration. These services include:
  • (1) production of oysters,
  • (2) water filtration, removal of nitrogen and phosphorus, and concentration of biodeposits
  • (water quality benefits),
  • (3) provision of habitat for epibenthic fishes (and other vertebrates and invertebrates),
  • (4) sequestration of carbon ,
  • (5) augmentation of fishery resources,
  • (6) stabilization of benthic or intertidal habitat (e.g. marsh), and
  • (7) increase in landscape diversity.
The study found costs could run as high as $7.85 billion, compared to the $5 million a year the effort is now getting from Congress according to sources quoted in the Huffington Post.

We are encouraged by this plan for several reasons. First, it shows that oysters are on the national agenda. Second it is calling for oyster sanctuaries like those we are seeking to establish here in Boston. Third, if Massachusetts is not ashamed by its inability to tap into Federal funds for Boston Harbor when the Chesapeake is getting $5 million for oysters per year, then the local environmental community should become mortified by its inactivity if/when significantly larger capital flows into Maryland and Virginia.

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