Work to build artificial oyster reefs in Maryland’s Tred Avon River is set to resume in late 2020 after several years of delays tied to lack of funding and concerns from watermen.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it has $5 million to spend on Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration, most of that going toward the Tred Avon in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. The money came out of a surplus of appropriations Congress made, above the budget outlined by the Trump administration, said Chris Gardner, an Army Corps spokesman.
The Tred Avon is one of five waterways in which Maryland has been using rock, old shells and other materials to build reefs onto which larval oysters are deposited. The goal is to help the species recover from decades of overfishing and disease, which left bay oysters at less than 1% of their historic abundance in the Chesapeake.
A recent video shared by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation suggested that in another of those waterways, Harris Creek, the work is a success. The video shows an oyster-covered reef teeming with other aquatic life.
The Tred Avon work had been delayed over questions from watermen about the projects’ effectiveness, and the impact on their livelihood. Oysters cannot be harvested legally from artificial reefs built with federal money. When that prompted Maryland officials to stall oyster restoration work in 2016, the Army Corps diverted money allotted for the state’s waters to Virginia
Work in the Tred Avon stopped in 2017, and in subsequent years, there was no money in Army Corps budgets to resume it.
Army Corps officials expect to award a construction contract for the work by September, and for work to begin in December, Gardner said.
Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said he hope the work succeeds. But he and other watermen wish the investment would be spread around other parts of the bay, so that when those planted oysters reproduce, some of their offspring end up on reefs that are open to public fishing.
Without more restoration work, he said, the bay’s oysters remain perilously vulnerable. The population in much of the upper Chesapeake suffered greatly amid record rainfall in 2018. The water was too fresh for many of the bivalves to survive. And if a drought comes along next, Brown fears that increased salinity in the bay would invite diseases to take root on the southern end of the bay, where this oyster season has been one of the best in years, he said.