Assessment of oyster reefs in the Piankatank River, VA
The Piankatank River, Virginia is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay located between the Rappahannock and York Rivers on Virginia's Middle Peninsula. It is one of the more unique rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as it is fed by Dragon Run, Virginia's second largest swamp, and is surrounded by mostly forested and agricultural land. The Piankatank River has been managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) a state oyster seed replenishment area with a system of intermixed seed and sanctuary reef areas for over 50 years.
The 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement identified the Piankatank River as one of the five tributaries in Virginia targeted for oyster restoration with a goal of restoring 241 acres by 2025. As part of the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Program, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District (USACE) and non-federal sponsor VMRC have completed two phases of oyster reef construction in the Piankatank River. Phase 1 constructed 25 acres of reef in 2017 with that acreage contributing to the 241-acre goal met by restoration partners in 2021. Phase 2 constructed an additional 53 acres in 2023.
Our objectives are to monitor and document the status of these reefs using criteria established by the Chesapeake Bay Program's Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team (GIT) Chesapeake Bay Oyster Metrics Report. According to the GIT metrics, an oyster sanctuary reef should achieve the target thresholds of 50 oysters/m2, 50 grams dry weight/m2, and a minimum of two-year classes.
The reefs should undergo a physical assessment for density, biomass (dry weight), shell accretion, and size-frequency distribution. An assessment of other attached fauna for density and biomass is also desired. The data from the assessments will be used to inform adaptive management decisions and designs of other oyster restoration projects in the Chesapeake Bay.
There are two sites that will need to be assessed. The first site, Phase 1, is a 25-acre subtidal granite reef constructed in 2017. The second site, Phase 2, is a 53-acre subtidal granite reef constructed in 2023. The work is anticipated to include Year 7 monitoring for the Phase 1 site in 2024 and Years 1, 3, and 6 monitoring for Phase 2 in 2024, 2026, and 2029.