Coupled Restoration of Intertidal and Subtidal Oyster Reef to Rebuild Habitat and Fisheries

High quality estuarine habitats such as oyster reefs are essential for supporting reproduction, growth, and productivity for fish and crustaceans. Oysters are unique in their ability to form hard substrate in estuaries that are otherwise dominated by soft sediments. These biophysical structures provide numerous small refugia and support distinct assemblages of fish and crustaceans compared with other estuarine habitat types.

Oysters are themselves a fishery species; overharvesting, disease, and changes in water quality and quantity have contributed to the loss of oyster habitats and compromise their support of associated fish and crustacean productivity. Free-swimming oyster larvae depend on shells of older generations for attachment, growth, and sustainability of reef habitat. When oyster reefs are degraded, essential habitat—and production potential—is lost. Habitat restoration has emerged as an important component of a holistic resource management approach. Because an obstacle to oyster population recovery is lack of hard substrate, restoration activities have focused on providing shells or other materials as a base for oyster recruitment and faunal community development.

This project will restore 1.83 ha of intertidal and subtidal Crassostrea virginica oyster reef complex in St. Charles Bay, within the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (MANERR) and adjacent to Goose Island State Park in Aransas County, TX. The project will expand an area of restored oyster reef from 2017 and early 2020 for a total of 5.5 ha of restored habitat. The area is closed to oyster harvest and was identified by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) as a target for restoring oyster populations, supporting recreational fishing, and protecting an erosional shoreline.