A population dynamic model assessing options for managing eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and triploid Suminoe oysters (Crassostrea ariakensis) in Chesapeake Bay

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Virginia Tech

A demographic population simulation model was developed to examine alternative fishery management strategies and their likely effects on the probability of extirpation of local eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) populations in the Chesapeake Bay. Management strategies include varying the minimum shell length-at-harvest, harvest rate, and rate and frequency of stocking of oyster seed with respect to varying salinities and oyster population densities. We also examined the rate of disease-mediated mortality that can be tolerated by a viable population.

High density populations at low salinity sites remained viable under a 100% harvest rate and 76.6 minimum shell length-at-harvest due to increased fertilization efficiency in high densities, which increased reproduction. Low density populations at low salinity sites remained viable when harvest rate was set at 0.5 and minimum shell length-at-harvest was set at 85 mm. Neither reducing harvest rate nor minimum shell length-at-harvest produced a viable population at high salinity sites. The effects of disease-mediated mortality were too great for these management options to decrease the probability of extirpation to zero. Supplemental stocking conducted regularly reduced extirpation probabilities to zero and pulse stocking (every five to ten years) did as well, although it required a much larger number of oysters to be stocked. Decreasing disease-mediated mortality rates by 20% in high density populations and by 80% in low density populations reduced the probability of extirpation to zero, suggesting the degree of genetic improvement needed to rebuild eastern oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay.

Culture of a non-native species, such as the Suminoe oyster (Crassostrea ariakensis), could supplement harvest of the declining eastern oyster fishery in Chesapeake Bay. Because of possible ecological impacts from introducing a fertile non-native species, introduction of sterile triploid oysters has been proposed. However, recent data show that a small percentage of triploid individuals progressively revert toward diploidy, introducing the possibility Suminoe oyster might establish self-sustaining populations. To assess the risk of Suminoe oyster populations becoming established in Chesapeake Bay, a demographic population model was developed. Inputs modeled included: salinity, stocking density, reversion rate, reproductive potential, natural and harvest mortality, growth rates, and effects of various management strategies, including harvest criteria. Results showed decreased probability of a Suminoe oyster population becoming self-sustaining when oysters are grown at low salinity sites, certainty of harvest is high, minimum shell length-at-harvest is small, and stocking density is low. Results of the model suggest management strategies that will decrease the probability of a Suminoe oyster population becoming self-sustaining. Policy makers and fishery managers can use the model to predict potential outcomes of policy decisions, supporting the ability to make science-based policy decisions about the proposed introduction of triploid Suminoe oysters into the Chesapeake Bay.

Eastern oyster, population dynamics, triploidy, management, risk assessment, Suminoe oyster, model