Grants available to repopulate oysters

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Smithfield oyster farmers have until March 18 to apply for federal grant funding to help repopulate oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is making $260,000 available to oyster farmers in 2022 in partnership with the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences and the Virginia Marine Resources Center to help them locate the best sites and shell sources for reef restoration on their VMRC aquaculture leases.

According to USDA District Conservationist Jake Browder, oyster farmers from the Smithfield, Accomac, Chesapeake, Gloucester, Quinton, Tappahannock and Warsaw NRCS service centers can receive up to $20,000 per year through the grant program, starting in fiscal year 2022, provided they apply by March 18.

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The application form, and instructions for submitting it, can be downloaded at

“Healthy shellfish populations help to support finfish populations,” Browder explained. “Oysters significantly modify their environment and create new habitat(s) for other species by forming reefs. This habitat supports invertebrates and juvenile fish that serve as a food source for predatory fish and other marine species.”

According to Browder, individual tracts of leased ground will only qualify one time for oyster bed restoration and one time for enhancement and replenishment.

“The Virginia oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is one of the most ecologically, economically and culturally important species in the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding waters,” said Andrew Button, VMRC’s Deputy Chief of Shellfish Management, in a USDA press release. “The past success of this program resulted in millions more oysters in the Bay and many acres of oyster habitat being created. It is a perfect example of the good work that can be accomplished when private, state and federal partners come together, and we are excited about continuing to build on this success.”

Last year, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation gave an $80,000 grant to the James River Association for the purpose of creating “living shorelines” of oysters in Isle of Wight, Surry and Prince George counties, resulting in two battlement-shaped concrete “oyster castles” being built along the bank of Cypress Creek in Smithfield’s Windsor Castle Park. But according to Browder, the NRCS grant isn’t the same thing. The NRCS grant is specific to privately leased shellfish grounds used for oyster harvesting.

In fact, the VMRC has restricted the harvesting of shellfish in the Pagan River and Jones Creek in Isle of Wight County. A map of existing and available leases is published on VMRC’s website at: