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Virginia Coastal Program: 2009 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:

96.02

Grantee:

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Project Title:

Seaside Special Area Management Plan: Spatial Information Analysis and Interpretation for Shellfish Grounds and SAV Beds

Project Description as Proposed:

The overall SAMP Strategy consists of three phases, covering Fiscal Years 2008, 2009, 2010. The project will be led by Virginia CZM in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, and representatives of the shellfish aquaculture industry. It will be completed in the interval commencing October 1, 2009 and finishing March 31, 2012. The goals of this SAMP are (1) to map, analyze, and interpret the current status and trends in the uses, economic values, and beneficial ecosystem functions associated with state-owned and other habitats in the seaside bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, (2) to re-evaluate these uses in light of current and projected conditions, and (3) to recommend guidelines for managing these resources in a manner that optimizes the environmental and socio-economic benefits derived.  Using existing GIS data, combined with stakeholder/user information, management agency input and additional field-collected data, the effectiveness of use allocation patterns such as state oyster grounds will be examined in the context of current stakeholder uses and needs, and current ecological conditions.  A consensus building process will result in a plan which recommends regulatory and other guidelines to:
•increase economic productivity
•enhance ecosystem health
•resolve potential conflicts
The unique biological diversity, ecological health, and economic importance to local communities are all well documented for Virginia’s seaside bays. Virginia CZM’s long-term commitment to and investment in enhancing the wise use of coastal resources in this region has played a significant role in management of the seaside bays ; this SAMP builds on those previous efforts, and particularly on the 6 year (FY 2002 – 2007) Seaside Heritage Program.

Coarse-scale maps of habitat suitability produced during Phase 1 of this work revealed, among other things, that 53% of the currently designated public shellfish grounds (as defined by Baylor 1894 ) are no longer suitable habitat for wild shellfish populations.  During Phase 2 VIMS will begin with these coarse-scale habitat-suitability assessments for the entire seaside bay complex and develop finer scale suitability designations based upon additional data for three representative areas: central Hog Island Bay, South Bay/Magothy Bay and southern Chincoteague Bay.  Finer scale resolution of habitat suitability in selected areas has been deemed necessary by the Project Team because of the highly complex nature of the habitats and the current lack of appropriately scaled environmental data.  In each of these representative areas VIMS will collect data on (1) bathymetry, (2) sediment characteristics (% shell, % sand, % silts and clays, and % organics), (3) wild shellfish (clam and oyster) abundance, and (4) wild fishery and aquaculture use patterns.  They will also gather additional data on habitat utilization and suitability from shellfish farmers and wild harvesters in each region. These data will be geo-referenced and overlain on our current geo-spatial data layers for these regions to produce higher resolution maps of habitat suitability for (1) oyster restoration, (2) wild shellfish harvest areas, (3) clam and oyster aquaculture and (4) submerged aquatic vegetation.  These higher resolution “working maps” will serve as a starting point for developing a consensus-building approach towards developing recommendations for management policies that best achieve the goals outlined above.

Mark Luckenbach will serve as the chief scientist on the project working in conjunction with the Project Team (see below) to produce geo-spatially referenced data and working maps which illustrate current habitat suitability.   Paige Ross and Edward Smith (VIMS- Eastern Shore Lab) will assist in field sample collection and processing and GIS data entry.

In addition to Luckenbach, the broader Project Team on this effort will be lead by Laura McKay, VA Coastal Zone Program Manager and will include Nick Meade, Virginia CZM GIS Coordinator, Steve Parker, Director of Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve, Barry Truitt and Alex Wilke, also of TNC-VCR, Marcia Berman (VIMS), Tony Watkinson and Hank Badger (VA Marine Resources Commission), Heather Lusk, (Terry Brothers Seafood), and Dave Burden (Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper).  Additional stakeholders from the Chincoteague and South/Magothy Bay sites will be engaged as appropriate. Laura McKay will head the project, providing leadership, guidance and continuity of purpose with previous initiatives on the seaside, especially the Seaside Heritage Program.  Steve Parker will serve as the overall project administrator coordinating meetings and communications among the Project Team and producing an overall summary of Phase 2 efforts by the Project Team with recommendations for Phase 3 activities (see FY 2009 Task 96.01).

Federal Funding:

$45,077

Project Contact:

Mark Luckenbach, (757) 787-5816; luck@vims.edu

Project Status:

5/1/2010 - 3/31/2011; Project completed

Final Product Received:

Seaside Special Area Management Plan: Spatial Information Analysis and Interpretation for Shellfish Grounds and SAV Beds Final Report Oct 1, 2009 - Sept 30, 2010 (PDF) 

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

State-owned submerged in the seaside bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore support a wide range of ecologically- and culturally-important activities, including commercial harvest of wild shellfish, oyster reef sanctuaries, private shellfish aquaculture and seagrass restoration. The primary determinant of use allocation for these bottomlands is based largely upon a survey conducted in the 1890’s. Known as the Baylor survey, it defined the boundaries of the public shellfish beds at the time. In the nearly 120 years since this survey was conducted, environmental conditions have changed substantially and shellfish production has shifted largely from a wild harvest to intensive, hatchery-based aquaculture. In light of these changes, the Seaside SAMP program undertook a re-examination of habitat suitability and current and potential use patterns in the coastal bays for the purpose of developing recommendations for a more appropriate management approach.
 
In Phase I (FY’08 (Task 96.02), VIMS staff used geo-referenced aerial and ground-based data to map the current oyster reef and seagrass bed distributions in relation to public shellfish grounds (Baylor survey) and private aquaculture lease designations. Working with experts on oyster and seagrass restoration, course-level working maps of habitat suitability and potential uses of submerged lands were developed. In this Phase II project (FY’09 Task 96.02), VIMS staff refined these habitat suitability assessments for representative areas by collecting additional data on bathymetry and bottom characteristics and by gathering input from the shellfish aquaculture industry to better define potential uses of submerged lands.
 
Analysis of these data reveals significant mismatches between current use designations and habitat suitability. Fifty-seven percent of natural oyster reefs are located outside of the Baylor survey. About 34% of the area within the Baylor survey is unsuitable for wild oyster or clam fisheries, while roughly 10% of the area appears to be suitable for commercial shellfish aquaculture. It is estimated that 57% of the potential area for seagrass restoration lies within the Baylor survey boundaries.
 
This study points to the need to re-evaluate current use designations for state-owned submerged bottomlands on the Eastern Shore. A more flexible management system for allocating use of submerged bottomlands in the coastal bays which is based upon current habitat suitability, a balanced allocation among various stakeholders and science-based management of critical natural resources is recommended.
 
GIS projects produced in this project are listed in the list below and were delivered to the CZM program.

Description (Source)                                                           GIS File name
Baylor Ground (source:VMRC)                                             baylor spft poly.shp
Private Leases (source:VMRC)                                             priv_leasesspftline_FeatureT.shp
Study area delineations                                                         Study_areas.shp
Potential SAV (source: VIMS-SAV Program)                        potential_sav_boundaries_spft.shp
Alternative uses                                                                     Alternative_uses.shp
Union of all pertinent data for analysis                                  SAMP_Union.shp
Benthic & bathymetry sampling (SAMP)                               SAMP_benthic_sample_points.shp
Benthic & bathymetry sampling (Sea Ducks)                        Sea Duck Study-benthic sample polygon centroids.shp

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 email: Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to Virginia.Witmer@deq.virginia.gov

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


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