April 2009 - Joint Decision Made to Remain Fully Committed to Native Oysters
“Over the past two years, the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia have built an unprecedented partnership to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its living resources," said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. "I am extremely pleased that, together with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we have reached an agreement on a preferred oyster restoration alternative, one that will not threaten the Bay’s already stressed ecosystem. We look forward to finalizing this process over the next few months, and to collaborating with our partners in Virginia to use new science developed through this extraordinary study to support both the ecological restoration of our native oyster and the revitalization of our oyster industry with emphasis on new aquaculture opportunities.”
- Governor O’Malley
Joint Statement on Preferred Alternative:
Based on the current state of the science, and extensive public discourse the use of non-native oysters in Chesapeake Bay, its tidal tributaries, and the coastal bays and waters of Maryland and Virginia poses unacceptable ecological risks. Therefore, it is prudent for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) to adopt a native oyster only preferred alternative for purposes of the PEIS. In selecting the native oyster alternative, the Corps, together with the cooperating federal agencies, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and PRFC will remain fully committed to using only the native oyster to work towards revitalizing oyster restoration and aquaculture in meeting commercial and ecological goals. Furthermore, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and PRFC will work towards implementing biologically and economically sustainable harvesting measures for the public oyster fishery. Finally, the Corps, together with the cooperating federal agencies, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and PRFC will pursue the establishment of realistic metrics, accountability measures and a performance based adaptive management methodology for all efforts in revitalizing the native oyster for purposes of achieving commercial and ecological goals.
In selecting this preferred alternative, the Corps is aware that future scientific investigation may be proposed for purposes of improving our understanding of non-native oyster ecology and restoration implications. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will consider such proposals only when they are part of a scientific research framework. The research framework must be reviewed and approved by the PEIS lead and cooperating agencies and PRFC. A key criterion for approval of any such proposal will be to demonstrate that the proposal will not pose unacceptable ecological and socio-economic risks. Utilizing established regulatory process, the review of any such proposal will include consultation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and a process agreed to by the partner agencies to obtain scientific advice and peer review similar to that which was utilized for the development of this PEIS.
October 2008 - Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Oyster Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay
Frequently Asked Questions
When was this project initiated?
On January 4, 2004 a Notice of Intent to prepare this EIS was published in the Federal Register.
What is the purpose of the EIS?
The EIS was drafted to assist in identifying the best oyster restoration strategy or combination of strategies for re-establishing a self-sustaining oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay comparable to levels during 1920 to 1970. The EIS objectively evaluates the ecological, economic, and cultural impacts of a variety of strategies to restore the ecological role of oysters in the bay and the economic benefits of a sustainable commercial fishery through native oyster restoration and/or an ecologically compatible non-native oyster species that would restore these lost functions.
Why is restoring the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population so important?
A keystone species of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, Eastern Oysters serve a vital ecological role by the filtering sediment and other particles from the water column and provide a unique bottom habitat for numerous aquatic species. Oysters have also supported an important economic industry in the region. The Chesapeake oyster industry, once the world’s largest producer during the mid-19th century, began to decline steadily throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. The more recent rapid decline in abundance has been attributed to the introduction of two foreign diseases. Restoring the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population is a key to improving the bay’s environmental health, as well as the local economies of waterfront communities.
What restoration strategies (alternatives) does the EIS evaluate?
- Introduce the oyster species Crassostrea ariakensis into the tidal waters of Maryland and Virginia for the purpose of establishing a naturalized, reproducing, and self-sustaining population of this oyster species. Also continue efforts to restore the native oyster (C virginica) throughout the Chesapeake Bay using best available restoration strategies and stock assessment techniques.
- Alternative 1 - No Action – Continue Status Quo: Continue Maryland's and Virginia’s current oyster restoration and repletion efforts and available funding using the best available restoration strategies and stock assessment techniques.
- Alternative 2 - Expand Native Oyster Restoration Efforts: Expand, improve, and accelerate Maryland's and Virginia’s oyster restoration and repletion efforts in collaboration with federal and private partners. Expanded efforts would include assessing cultch limitations and long-term solutions for this problem and the development, production and deployment of large quantities of disease-resistant strain(s) of C. virginica for broodstock enhancement.
- Alternative 3 - Harvest Moratorium: Implement a temporary harvest moratorium on native oysters and an oyster-industry compensation (buy-out) program in Maryland and Virginia, or a program that would offer displaced oystermen on-water restoration work. This alternative also evaluated more conservative harvest rates.
- Alternative 4 – Native Oyster Aquaculture: Establish and/or expand state-assisted, managed or regulated aquaculture operations in Maryland and Virginia using the native oyster species.
- Alternative 5 – Triploid Nonnative Oyster Aquaculture: Establish state-assisted, managed or regulated aquaculture operations in Maryland and Virginia using suitable triploid, nonnative oyster species.
- Alternative 6 - Introduce and Propagate an Alternative Oyster Species (other than C. ariakensis) or an Alternative Strain of C. ariakensis: Introduce and propagate in the state-sponsored, managed, or regulated oyster restoration programs in Maryland and Virginia, a disease resistant oyster species other than C. ariakensis, or an alternative strain of C. ariakensis. The Draft EIS dismisses this alternative due to lack of data.
- Alternative 7 – Establish a naturalized, reproducing and self-sustaining population of C. ariakensis in the tidal waters of Maryland and Virginia and discontinue efforts to restore C. virginica. The Draft EIS dismisses this alternative in response to a policy decision to not abandon native oyster restoration efforts.
- Alternative 8 - Combination of Alternatives
- Combination A: Only Native Oysters – Alternatives 2, 3 and 4.
- Combination B: Native Oysters and Triploid C. ariakensis aquaculture – Alternatives 2, 3, 4 and 5.
- Combination C: Native Oysters and Diploid and Triploid C. ariakensis – Proposed Action and Alternatives 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Why does the Draft EIS not include a preferred alternative?
The future of oyster restoration and management represents an incredibly complex challenge and a significant public policy decision, both in the public investment needed and potential risks to our environment. No single solution will meet all of the needs and concerns presented by this issue. Obtaining and taking into consideration the public's input, with the available science, is critical to determining the preferred alternative. A preferred alternative or combination of alternatives will be identified in the Final EIS after considering public comments. At this point, no decision has been made on a preferred alternative.
How many scientists were involved in this effort?
Approximately 90 scientists representing a diverse group of research institutions provided direct input to research supporting the EIS. Included in this group were 75 representatives of institutions located on the Atlantic coast, 7 representatives from mid-western institutions, 8 representatives of Pacific coast institutions, and 1 international representative.
What are the Draft EIS finding highlights?
- Continued native oyster restoration prospects are modest. Only modest improvements in native oyster restoration are expected at the regional level with an expansion of restoration efforts and implementation of more restrictive management of the oyster fishery.
- No critical consequences identified for non-native oyster introduction. For the nonnative oyster, no “show-stopper” issues were identified and there is greater potential for population growth and sustainability. This, however, is based upon a low level of certainty and is tempered by the fact that any unforeseen risk will be irreversible.
- Opportunities for industry re-emergence are greatest with aquaculture.
- Large-scale habitat restoration is required for all strategies. Oyster restoration, regardless of native or non-native, will require a mega-scale oyster bar habitat rehabilitation effort, more restrictive management and enforcement of the traditional public oyster fishery, stringent strategies and policy decisions to improve the Bay’s water quality, and focused research and monitoring of the oyster resource.
What is the schedule for completing the Final EIS?
- Oct. 17, 2008 Draft EIS published in Federal Register and 60-day public comment begins.
- Nov. 5 to14, 2008 Conduct six public meetings (3 in Md. and 3 in Va.)
- Dec. 15, 2008 End of 60-day public comment on Draft EIS*
- Dec./ Jan. 2008 Review and respond to public comments on Draft EIS.
- Jan. to Mar. 2009 Agencies identify preferred alternative or combination of alternatives.
- April 2009 Final EIS published in Federal Register.
- May / June 2009 Record of Decision issued by lead agencies of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Virginia Marine Resource Commission.
*Maryland’s Oyster Advisory Commission is expected to review and provide comments at this time.
When and how may citizens provide input on the decision making process?
Citizens may comment on the Draft EIS from Oct. 17, 2008 to Dec. 15, 2008. Written comments may be mailed to the Department of the Army, Norfolk District, Corps of Engineers, Fort Norfolk, 803 Front Street, Norfolk, Virginia 23510-1096, Attn. Mark Mansfield. Comments may also be submitted via email to Mark.T.Mansfield@usace.army.mil.
Verbal testimony may be offered at any of the six public meetings to be held in Maryland and Virginia.
For a full copy of the Draft EIS visit http://www.nao.usace.army.mil/OysterEIS/.
Oyster Advisory Commission Update
The Maryland Oyster Advisory Committee, a 21-member commission of scientists, watermen, anglers, businessmen, economists, environmental advocates, and elected officials, advises the state on matters relating to oysters and strategies for rebuilding and managing the oyster population in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay. The OAC will review the Draft EIS during the public comment period.
The OAC also recently reviewed the permits requested by DNR from the Maryland Department of Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge buried oyster shells on or before December 1, 2008. The OAC recommended that DNR apply for two permits, one to initiate a new effort involving the reclamation of in situ shell and another to expand the use of alternative materials (e.g. concrete, stone, slag). These two permits were prepared by DNR in coordination with Maryland’s oyster partners and are currently under review by the permitting agencies.
In addition, the OAC formed two workgroups, the Industry Re-Emergence (Economic Restoration) Workgroup and the Ecological Workgroup. The Economic Restoration Workgroup is investigating how aquaculture might be used to preserve the oyster industry while allowing for restoration and will report on how the traditional oyster harvesting industry could be integrated with aquaculture. Recently, the OAC reviewed enforcement issues related to natural resources law and legal issues related to bottom leasing for aquaculture. The OAC will be providing comments and recommendations on these subjects in the coming months.
The OAC’s Ecological Workgroup is investigating and developing recommendations pertaining to the re-establishment of an expanding population of native oysters in protected areas, and the ecological services they provide, through management action. The workgroup will assess the likelihood of success and the time horizon needed to achieve this vision, and will develop a list of policy changes that should be considered.
The OAC continues to meet on the third Wednesday of each month, in various locations throughout Maryland. The meetings are open to the public. For more information about the OAC visit www.dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/oysters/.
- Lead Agencies: State of Maryland, Commonwealth of Virginia and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District
- Cooperating Federal Agencies: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration
- Other Agencies: Potomac River Fisheries Commission and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (represents States from Maine to Florida)