Connecticut’s shellfish population gets a boost with the state’s first restoration guide

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Over the past century, East Coast shellfish populations, particularly of the native eastern oyster, have declined to a fraction of their previous numbers due to overexploitation, water pollution, disease and habitat destruction.

But there is hope for the hardy eastern oyster. In New York Harbor, oysters – grown in cages on the seabed and suspended from docks – are thriving, part of an effort to restore bivalves once plentiful in the waters of America’s most populous city. ‘America. Similar oyster restoration efforts are progressing in Chesapeake Bay, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.







A scientist conducting an oyster population survey looks out over a natural bed in Westport, Connecticut.

Griffin O’Neill
Connecticut Sea Grant




Oysters, like corals, are founding species of coastal environments. Fundamental species dominate an ecosystem, determine the range of other species found in it, and direct how energy moves through the environment.

Healthy oyster populations have major benefits, such as improving water quality, enriching adjacent habitats, providing food for other marine wildlife, protecting shorelines – a focus of Pew’s conservation efforts in recent years – and the strengthening of commercial and recreational fishing.



A recreational fisherman collects bait from a natural oyster bed in Stratford, Connecticut.




A recreational fisherman collects bait from a natural oyster bed in Stratford, Connecticut.

Griffin O’Neill
Connecticut Sea Grant




And on August 8, Connecticut began implementing a strategic plan to restore and grow its native seashell populations.

The Connecticut Shellfish Restoration Guide provides proven science-based techniques to help oyster farmers, state and local authorities, academic institutions, and others involved in restoration efforts increase shellfish and fish populations, improve fish quality, water, strengthen coastal habitats and stabilize shorelines. .

One element of the guide is the CT Shellfish Restoration Map Viewer, an interactive online mapping tool released in 2021. Previously, without a central, comprehensive habitat map to work from, shellfish restoration practitioners lacked sufficient information to effectively choose sites, and state and local agencies struggled to properly evaluate shellfish restoration projects. This has resulted in approval and permit delays, among other issues. The viewer helps users identify the best locations for setting up shell restoration projects.

As Connecticut Sea Grant aquaculture specialist Tessa Getchis told Pew last August, “The tool focuses on habitat suitability, which makes a place optimal, suitable, or unsuitable for shellfish growth. This type of resource is on the cutting edge of shellfish restoration planning.



Reef balls placed in this cove in Stratford, Connecticut will provide surfaces for wild oyster larvae to settle on.




Reef balls placed in this cove in Stratford, Connecticut will provide surfaces for wild oyster larvae to settle on.

Griffin O’Neill
Connecticut Sea Grant




Connecticut’s recipe for restoring oysters

The guide – produced by Connecticut Sea Grant, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) under a federal Conservation Innovation Grant, with input from numerous organizations, including Pew – is building on the state’s Shellfish Initiative, a 2016 plan for the growth of its commercial and recreational shellfish farms. This initiative has recognized shellfish restoration as a key avenue for safeguarding Connecticut’s wild population as well as its recreational and commercial shellfish. Members of the shellfish industry have identified several opportunities to better align their aquaculture operations with restoration, ideas that are now reflected in the guide.

As David Carey, Director of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Office of Aquaculture, explained, “Connecticut’s shellfish industry understands better than most people that improving wild oyster populations in our state is good for seafood businesses. That’s why oyster and oyster farmers, along with other commercial fishers, supported the development of this guide from the start and are ready to reap the benefits of its realization.



At Ash Creek, Connecticut Sea Grant's Tessa Getchis examines oysters in a natural bed in Fairfield, Connecticut.




At Ash Creek, Connecticut Sea Grant’s Tessa Getchis examines oysters in a natural bed in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Griffin O’Neill
Connecticut Sea Grant




A difference on and in the water

In Connecticut and elsewhere, simply creating a statewide plan can expedite restoration because, if done right, it requires taking stock of the status of shellfish populations, connecting stakeholders and determine how best to benefit the natural environment and the people who depend on shellfish.

“One of the most visible results of our state’s growing shellfish populations will be a cleaner, clearer Long Island Sound, thanks to the shellfish’s ability to filter water and stabilize sediment,” said said Thomas Morgart, state ecologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Connecticut. “Improving our state’s water quality means a healthier coastal ecosystem as well as a better experience for people in our water.”



Wild oysters grow in Farm River within sight of homes in East Haven, Connecticut.




Wild oysters grow in Farm River within sight of homes in East Haven, Connecticut.

Tessa Getchis
Connecticut Sea Grant




As implementation of the guide kicks off, residents of Nutmeg State are expected to notice changes, including new restoration projects along the coast and new oyster shell collection programs at local restaurants. who will pass these shells on to restoration groups to build the underlying material necessary for healthy reefs. . The hope is that the baby oysters from these areas, which will be off-limits to harvesting, will disperse and enhance nearby commercial and recreational beds – a cycle that has unfolded in and around the sanctuaries of other States.

It is clear that investments in green infrastructure, such as oyster reefs, can pay dividends to the public. Connecticut’s new Seashell Restoration Guide is expected to result in healthier, cleaner waters — and a brighter future — for the state’s coastal communities.

Aaron Kornbluth is a senior officer and Zoe Yuki Goozner is a senior associate with the Pew Charitable Trusts Marine Life Conservation Project in the United States.

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