Virginia CZM Program: 2017 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

VA CZM logoProject Task:

71 

Grantee:

Virginia Institute of Marine Science 

Project Title:

Expanding Virginia’s Oyster Industry While Minimizing User Conflict 

Project Description:

The waters and shorelines of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay present a prime example of multiple uses by constituents with widely varying commercial, recreational and cultural interests. Historically, commercial fishing, especially of oysters, dominated the activity throughout the tidal areas of the Bay. For decades, communities developed along shorelines to take advantage of productive public and private (leased) oyster grounds, and to harvest other economically important species. With the introduction of oyster diseases in the late 1950s, oyster harvests began to collapse and continued to decline through several consecutive decades. Nearshore properties that had been associated with commercial fishing were abandoned and sold to other user groups. The numbers of new residents increased along the shore and many diverse activities replaced commercial fishing. Concurrently, efforts to increase oyster populations and oyster production on both public and private grounds has remained a baywide focus of federal, state and local entities, and over the past decade there has been a substantial improvement in oyster production on public grounds, but most especially on private grounds. The most rapid expansion has been in hatchery-based production of cage-cultured oysters on private grounds. Conflicts have arisen between new user groups residing along the bay shore, and a growing industry that works primarily in nearshore waters. Additionally, as the shoreline has been developed, there are very limited access points along the waterfront where commercial activity can occur. The focus of the proposed effort is to characterize the oyster industry as it exists today, examine the regulatory and economic framework that resulted in its recent growth, identify issues that will likely impact future expansion, and suggest pathways for supporting growth of the oyster industry into the future. Specifically, we will address (1) current and future productivity of public oyster grounds given their dependency on limited (both in quantity and future availability) shell resources for habitat and replenishment; (2) current and future productivity of private lease grounds including estimates of unproductive area; and (3) current and future productivity of intensive, hatchery dependent oyster aquaculture including limits to and opportunities for future expansion. All will be examined in context of current regulatory and statutory impediments to multiple uses by other commercial, recreational and cultural/economic interests. We propose a 3-year effort with production of a review of current industry status (year 1), short term opportunities and challenges in the 5-10 year time frame (year 2), and longer-term (post 2025) opportunities and challenges (year 3). These are outlined below as sequential deliverables. 

Federal Funding:

$70,000 

Project Contact:

Roger Mann, 804.684.7360; rmann@vims.edu  

Project Status:

 1/1/2018 - 9/30/2018; Project Completed

Final Product:

Expanding Virginia's Oyster Industry While Minimizing User Conflict Interim Report Year 1 (PDF)  

Project Summary:

The focus of this project is to characterize the oyster industry as it exists today, examine the regulatory and economic framework that resulted in its recent growth, identify issues that will likely impact future expansion, and suggest pathways for supporting growth of the oyster industry into the future. Specifically, the project addresses (1) current and future productivity of public oyster grounds given their dependency on limited (both in quantity and future availability) shell resources for habitat and replenishment; (2) current and future productivity of private lease grounds including estimates of unproductive area; and (3) current and future productivity of intensive, hatchery dependent oyster aquaculture including limits to and opportunities for future expansion.

Critical findings from Year 1 of this 3 year study mapped and quantified the areas suitable for future shell production and restoration based on stock assessments, replenishment and monitoring studies.  These results present a mechanism for Virginia to move forward and target where restoration efforts should be focused given the limited supply of shell.

The results from this year also revealed that within the private fishery, active aquaculture is only occurring on about 34% of all leased bottom.  This statistic was computed after reviewing mandatory harvest reporting records between 2013 and 2017.  The relatively low cost of leasing grounds combined with minimal harvest requirements and lack of enforcement contributes to a growing problem of lease inactivity within the Commonwealth’s subaqueous bottom.  This, in turn, contributes to the absence of subaqueous bottom available to support the industry’s growth.

Finally, year 1 began examining the most notable conflicts associated with aquaculture in nearshore waters.  The study finds that SAV coexists with intensive aquaculture frequently, and that more than 40% of all leases reporting harvesting have SAV present on them.  Additional study is needed to assess the historic trends in SAV presence or absence with respect to private leasing and harvest reporting. 

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 or April.Bahen@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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