Re­port pos­i­tive on oys­ter restora­tion

Record Observer - - News - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@stardem.com

EAS­TON — Peo­ple in­ter­ested in the oys­ter restora­tion work in the Chop­tank River com­plex can check out a re­port re­leased this month by the Mary­land Oys­ter Restora­tion In­ter­a­gency Work­group that de­tails the ef­fort’s progress.

In Har­ris Creek, which was the cen­ter of a con­tro­versy over the ef­fec­tive­ness of oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies, the re­port in­di­cates oys­ters are meet­ing tar­get num­bers for suc­cess.

Since work started to build oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies in the Chop­tank River com­plex in 2011, nearly 400 acres of oys­ter restora­tion has been com­pleted, with about 118 acres that await seed­ing or are partly seeded, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

A to­tal of 2.3 bil­lion oys­ters, the vast ma­jor­ity of which were grown by the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences Horn Point Lab­o­ra­tory in Cam­bridge, have been planted, the re­port reads.

Oys­ter restora­tion is be­ing tar­geted in three parts of the Chop­tank River com­plex — Har­ris Creek, the Lit­tle Chop­tank River and the Tred Avon River.

While there are mul­ti­ple fac­tors that de­ter­mine whether an oys­ter reef has been re­stored, Stephanie Westby, an oys­ter co­or­di­na­tor and en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer with the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said “prob­a­bly the one that is most in­tu­itive and peo­ple are most in­ter­ested in is how many oys­ters are liv­ing” on the reefs.

Har­ris Creek is where restora­tion work be­gan in 2011. The last oys­ter spat on shell were planted in 2015. Westby said 2015 was the first year that 100 acres of reefs in Har­ris Creek were old enough to be con­sid­ered for their first check in.

While a full re­port is due later in 2016, pre­lim­i­nary anal­y­sis of Har­ris Creek shows that all of the reefs seeded in 2012 cur­rently meet an es­tab­lished thresh­old for suc­cess.

The min­i­mum thresh­old of 15 oys­ters per square me­ter has been met over 30 per­cent of the bot­tom mon­i­tored in Har­ris Creek, and 50 per­cent meets a higher tar­get — 50 oys­ters per square me­ter. Westby called that the “gold stan­dard” and ul­ti­mate high tar­get for oys­ter restora­tion.

“We are really pleased with what we’re see­ing as of this first three-year check in for those first 100 acres,” Westby said.

Pre­lim­i­nary data also shows there are three times more oys­ters on stone sub­strate reef planted in 2013 than on any reef site mon­i­tored in Har­ris Creek, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Mon­i­tor­ing work in Har­ris Creek is planned through 2021 to de­ter­mine whether the reefs there meet preestab­lished suc­cess cri­te­ria, the re­port states.

In the Lit­tle Chop­tank River, the restora­tion plan calls for restor­ing 440 acres of reef with 1.9 bil­lion seed oys­ters. Of the 440 acres, 40 acres al­ready meet the def­i­ni­tion of a re­stored reef due to nat­u­ral re­pro­duc­tion. They might not re­quire any restora­tion, but will be mon­i­tored. So far, about 46 acres have been re­stored, and 102.6 acres of con­structed reef are ei­ther par­tially seeded or await­ing seed­ing.

In the Tred Avon River, 147 acres are slated for restora­tion. In-wa­ter restora­tion work be­gan in 2015, when the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers built 16 acres of a planned 24-acre project in the river. More than 2 acres are com­pletely con­structed and seeded, and 16 are await­ing seed­ing or par­tially await­ing seed­ing.

But, both the Tred Avon and Lit­tle Chop­tank rivers’ con­struc­tion are hung up due to con­cerns voiced by those in the com­mer­cial oys­ter in­dus­try.

In the Lit­tle Chop­tank River, the DNR ap­plied for a per­mit to place reef sub­strate, fos­sil on shell from Florida, mixed rock and rock, on an­other 187 acres of reefs. But, the per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion has been tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended at the DNR’s re­quest to al­low time to eval­u­ate the wa­ter­men’s con­cern.

When work started in the Lit­tle Chop­tank River with the fos­sil shell from Florida in 2014, Dorch­ester wa­ter­men protested the project, cit­ing con­cerns with what they be­lieved was mu­dand clay-like sub­strate be­ing used in the river. The Dorch­ester County Coun­cil also got in­volved in the 2014 protest, cit­ing con­cerns that the sub­strate is in­ter­fer­ing with crab­bers’ trot lines.

In the Tred Avon River, the DNR asked the Army Corps to de­lay the con­struc­tion of the re­main­ing 8 acres of planned oys­ter reefs, which was slated to start in the be­gin­ning of 2016, un­til a study on the Har­ris Creek oys­ter sanc­tu­ary that’s due in July is re­leased.

Wa­ter­men’s con­cerns with the Tred Avon project lie in his­tor­i­cal num­bers they say they pulled from the DNR’s web­site on oys­ter re­cruit­ment in Har­ris Creek and its neigh­bor, Broad Creek, which is open to oys­ter har­vest.

Wa­ter­men claimed in De­cem­ber that Broad Creek’s oys­ter pop­u­la­tion re­cruit­ment is bet­ter than that in Har­ris Creek, de­spite the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ef­fort to re­store pop­u­la­tions in Har­ris Creek.

How­ever, the num­bers wa­ter­men have used have been dis­puted by some sci­en­tists associated with oys­ter restora­tion.

Westby said that, due to the calls for de­lays in the Lit­tle Chop­tank and Tred Avon rivers, reef con­struc­tion in those rivers will not hap­pen at the pace that was orig­i­nally set, and there might need to be some mod­i­fi­ca­tion to the plans. But, seed plant­ings on the al­ready con­structed reefs, and some bot­tom that doesn’t need a con­structed reef, will hap­pen on pace, she said.

Through­out the in­ter­a­gency work­group’s re­port, it notes that disease is a fac­tor that may in­flu­ence the suc­cess of the Chop­tank River com­plex oys­ter sanc­tu­ary projects, which is the largest ef­fort of its kind in the world. One rea­son sci­en­tists say the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s oys­ter pop­u­la­tion has been de­pleted to such low lev­els is the disease that has plagued the pop­u­la­tion.

Westby said weather con­di­tions in re­cent years have been ideal to stave off disease, but should there be a hot, dry sum­mer, there could be a disease out­break, which might re­sult in some mor­tal­ity.

To view the full Oys­ter Restora­tion In­ter­a­gency Work­group re­port, visit www.chesa­peake­bay.noaa. gov.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ jbol­l_s­tar­dem.

PHOTO BY JOSH BOLLINGER

In this July 2014 file photo, 15 tons of shells with oys­ter spat set on them are piled on board Pa­tri­cia Campbell, the boat the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion uses for restora­tion work and spat plant­ings.

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