Oysters in Chesapeake Bay are one of the region’s most valuable commercial fisheries. The oysters also function as filter-feeders that cleans the water and provides food and shelter to other animals. Resource managers set specific targets for any of these ecosystem services or ecological functions as quantifiable goals for oyster restoration. In order to assess reef structural metrics, researchers utilize acoustic mapping, direct benthic sampling, underwater video, and aerial imagery.
Stakeholders practice a policy of adaptive management. Before any projects are implemented, the results of previous management strategies will be considered to determine the best approach for each project. The goal of these management strategies is to restore the oyster resource to a point where it is abundant, self-sustaining, and occurring over a wide range throughout the Chesapeake Bay.
The stakeholders of Chesapeake Bay oyster management focus on selected geographic areas to increase the success, optimize monitoring, and optimize funding resources. Benthic organisms are a good indicator of the environmental conditions of the Bay and its streams and rivers. Studies have shown that healthy and restored oyster reefs provide enhanced ecosystem services over unrestored or non-reef habitats. These metrics include the growth rate of seagrass, the abundance, biomass, and diversity of reef resident organisms.
Oyster restoration and strategies will differ based on the environmental conditions of the specific zone. In Chesapeake Bay disease is correlated with salinity. Therefore, many management strategies will be defined by three salinity zones: high, moderate, and low. The boundaries are well defined and maps of each salinity zone were developed. Zone 1 is the lower salinity water, and is characterized by lower levels of disease, better survival, and low reproductive capability. Zone 2 experiences fluctuating values and varies from year to year depending on the season. Zone 3 has the highest salinity in the region. This zone is characterized by high levels of disease mortality, so more aggressive restoration techniques are used in the area.
Currently, the major issues facing oyster management plans involve the impact of diseases and the degraded oyster habitat. Using adaptive management strategies, potential restoration programs must go through a process of:
- Project Design
- Measurable Objectives
- Project Review Process
These resource management strategies mark a shift from maintaining a sustainable fishery to rehabilitation of impaired resources and habitat to restore ecological function.