The Piankatank River is a trap-type estuary on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay that has been managed for seed oyster production since 1963. Market oyster production in the river is minimal. Repletion efforts include shell planting and seed removal. We describe sequential changes in population demographics and habitat in relation to repletion activities on eight Piankatank River public oyster reefs from 1998 through 2009. Two reef groups (northern and southern) may be distinguished by density (oysters/m2), biomass (g dry tissue weight), and shell volume (L/m2) data. Age-at-length relationships were estimated from demographic data using a quadratic model. Observed mortality rates were high, and age 3 oysters were essentially absent. A strong recruitment signal was observed in 1999 and 2002. Between 1998 and 2009, about 30% of the live oysters in the river were harvested as seed, corresponding to ∼7.5% of the total shell base in an average year. Typically, for every 5 bushels of shell planted, 1 bushel of seed was harvested (20% return). Even with shell planting (∼10 L/m2/y), the river shell budget showed a deficit with respect to the accretion rate required to balance sea level rise and natural degradation processes. During the study period, the mean river recruit-to-stock ratio was ∼4. The unusual and consistently high recruit-to-stock ratios suggest that management for modest continuous seed removal may be accomplished without shell planting. Annual stock assessment to identify low recruitment years is recommended as a method to adjust annual seed harvest quotas.
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Vol. 29 • No. 4