WASHINGTON – When Abraham Lincoln was in the White House, diners at hotel restaurants lining Pennsylvania Avenue feasted on platters full of oysters.
But today the shelled delicacy isn’t cheap – in part because of diminishing populations.
That’s why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to boost the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster bounty. The Corps along with Maryland and Virginia, finalized the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery: Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan, which will focus on the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, and its tributaries.
“In Maryland, our focus has been on Harris Creek which is a tributary in the Choptank River over near St. Michaels,” says Claire O’Neill, project manager for the restoration project.
According to her, the Corps identified up to two dozen tributaries in the Chesapeake Bay — 14 in Maryland and 10 in Virginia — where native oyster populations could thrive in the future if the river beds are made suitable and seeded with oysters.
“What we’re doing now is going through the tributaries one by one and trying to bring them up to snuff in terms of having enough oyster population mass to continue functioning,” says O’Neill.
In areas where the floor beds aren’t suitable, the Corps will add layers of granite as a foundation.
The tributaries the Corps believes are the best for large-scale oyster restoration include the following:
The costs for establishing the sanctuaries vary widely.
“Cost estimates project that investments ranging from $3.8 million to $46.2 million for the smallest Tier 1 tributary (Lynnhaven River, 40 to 150 ac) to $287.5 million to $1.07 billion for the largest Tier 1 tributary (Tangier/Pocomoke Sound ac, 3,000 to 5,900) are needed to achieve restoration targets. These estimates include habitat construction, seeding, and monitoring,” the report says.
The Chesapeake Bay once brimmed with oysters, but since the 20th century populations have been on a dramatic decline. Water and habitat degradation, disease and overharvesting are major contributing factors, scientists say.
Water filtration, nutrient cycling and providing a habitat are all part of the long-term goal of having an oyster population that sustains itself. Another eventual goal is to have a population that can contribute to an oyster fishery.
Read the full Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan
WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.