The Status of Virginia’s Public Oyster Resource 2021

Melissa Southworth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Roger L. Mann, Virginia Institute of Marine Science


The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) monitors recruitment of the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica (Gmelin, 1791), annually from late spring through early fall, by deploying spatfall1 (settlement and recruitment of larval oysters to the post metamorphic form termed spat) collectors (shellstrings) at various sites in three Virginia western Chesapeake Bay tributaries. The survey provides an estimate of a particular area’s potential for receiving a "strike" or settlement (set) of oysters on the bottom and helps describe the timing of recruitment events in a given year. Information obtained from this monitoring effort provides an overview of long-term recruitment trends in the lower Chesapeake Bay and contributes to the assessment of the current oyster resource condition and the general health of the Bay. These data are also valuable to parties on both the public side (Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), Conservation Replenishment Department) and private industry who are interested in potential timing and location of shell plantings in order to optimize recruitment of spat on bottom cultch (shell that is available for larval oysters to settle on).

Results from spatfall monitoring reflect the abundance of ready-to-settle oyster larvae in an area, and thus, provide an index of oyster population reproduction as well as development and survival of larvae to the settlement stage in an estuary. Environmental factors affecting these physiological activities may cause seasonal and annual fluctuations in spatfall, which are evident in the data.

Data from spatfall monitoring also serve as an indicator of potential oyster recruitment into a particular estuary. Survival of spat on bottom cultch is affected by many factors, including physical and chemical environmental conditions, the physiological condition of the larvae when they settle, predators, disease, and the timing of these various factors. Abundance and condition of bottom cultch also affects the settlement process and survival of spat on the bottom. Therefore, spatfall on shellstrings may not directly correspond with recruitment on bottom cultch at all times or places.

This report summarizes data collected during the 2021 settlement season in three tributaries in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay.