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Virginia CZM Program: 2006 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University

Project Title:

An Economic Analysis of a Proposed Management Plan for the Public Oyster Grounds of the Rappahannock River

Project Description as Proposed:

The objective of the proposed project is to evaluate the economic costs of management strategies for public oyster grounds at the mouth of the Rappahannock River. Oyster populations in this area have been decimated by the impact of MSX. Restoration of eight reefs covering 300 acres in this area was begun in 2001 with the planting of oyster shell. The goal was to establish a sustainable population of disease resistant oysters. The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program provided some of the initial funding. Other funds came from VMRC and NOAA. 

In 2002 commercial harvesters requested that VMRC open some areas to harvest. Areas above the Route 3 bridge were opened. In 2006, a request was made to open areas below the bridge. This request was not granted. A plan for a sustainable annual commercial harvest would alleviate the state from having to respond to annual requests for opening up specific areas. Any management plan should maximize the biological and economic benefits from the harvest and the utilization of the state’s resources. 

The total public grounds area being managed is 400 acres. Shell is planted on 28 bars covering 150 acres. The policy goal is a management strategy that allows commercial harvest from these bars while maintaining the development of a potentially disease resistant population. This analysis will require biological information on oyster stock, spat sets and circulation patterns of larvae in order to incorporate protection of a brood stock and establish a plan for rotational harvesting of public grounds. With a rotational harvest, parts of the grounds are harvested each year while other parts are left untouched. Once a region is harvested, recruitment occurs from adjacent, closed areas. The region is then closed for a period during which the recruits grow to market size. Additionally, VMRC can regulate minimum and maximum size, total harvest, gear, season and entry. The economic benefits to harvesters and costs of restoration, management and harvest from these bars will be used to estimate the net returns from restoration and harvest management strategies. Biological and some economic data are available from VIMS and VMRC. Data on harvest costs are available from other existing sources.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Dr. George Santopietro; (540) 951-1680;

Project Status:

6/1/2007 - 9/30/2007; Project Completed

Final Product Received:

An Economic Analysis of Proposed Management Plans for the Public Oyster Grounds of the Rappahannock River (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

A bioeconomic model of the oyster fishery at the Mouth of the Rappahannock was developed to generate estimated values for the net revenues from opening the public grounds on a rotational basis. The model portrays one of the rotational areas based on characteristics of the entire region. The model starts with no population of oysters.

The reefs or beds (bars) in each area are either included in a sanctuary or are open to harvest. The purpose of the unharvested sanctuaries is to maintain a broodstock which supplies larvae for harvest areas. The population of mature oysters is assumed to be self-sustaining, i.e. each oyster just replaces itself. Oysters larger than 4.5 inches found on the harvested grounds are sold by the watermen to the Marine Resources Commission which then transplants them to the sanctuaries. Thus, the sanctuary population will be increasing over time as they are added.

The population of mature oysters on the harvested grounds results from a natural setting of spat. The broodstock, as well as mature oysters elsewhere in the area, are the source of larvae that settles on the substrate of these bars. The management plan calls for repletion of both sanctuary and harvested bars once every three years by placing cultch material as a means for promoting spat set. High mortality rates for spat and juveniles result in a market size population of oysters three years later that is a small fraction of the original spat.

Once the population in an area has reached market size, the area is opened to harvesting by watermen using dredge vessels. Each vessel has two watermen working and works half of each season on each of the two opened public grounds. Given the high natural mortality rate, most of the oysters not taken are expected to die in the third year. The estimated revenue received by the watermen is a function of their catch and the market price. Revenue net of harvester costs is found as revenue minus costs borne by the watermen. This tells us the net return received by the watermen for their efforts. Revenue net of state costs is revenue received by the watermen minus the costs of shelling and purchasing large oysters. This tells us whether or not the revenue generated covers the costs of the state’s management activities. Revenue net of both costs is found as revenue minus both of these costs. This is the return to the allocation of all resources accounted for in the model.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy


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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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