Current Research Grants

A bay-wide approach to oyster stock assessment, estimates of vital rates and disease status.
NOAA-NCBO. $ 168,096. 7/1/2011-6/30/2012.
This is a collaborative project between VIMS (Roger Mann, Ryan Carnegie, Melissa Southworth), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC, James Wesson), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR, Mike Naylor, Chris Dungan, Mitch Tarnowski), and the University of Maryland (UMD, Ken Paynter). The overall objective of the proposed effort is to design, implement, and complete an oyster (Crassostrea virginica) stock assessment that, using cross-calibrated methods, allows a statistically defensible estimate of the Chesapeake Bay oyster population, location specific growth rate and disease status, age-specific estimates of natural (M) and fishing (F) mortalities, and the vital measurements required to build estuary-specific and bay-wide shell substrate budgets.

The contributing objectives are:
(a)    Retrospective analysis of data from the Virginia patent tong stock assessment survey (that use random sampling within defined strata) examining spatial distribution of both oyster density and shell volume: consider re-stratification to improve sampling design and population estimation.
(b)    Target sentinel stations (43 in number) in Maryland waters, as examined by MD DNR, for assessment using patent tongs in combination with dredge collections. Modify dredge deployments to timed hauls with GPS to estimate swept area covered, and thereby provide dredge efficiency estimates when compared with patent tong data. These in turn allow quantitative population estimates with ability to bias estimators for size frequency (if they occur). Use swept area dredge methods for all Maryland stations.
(c)    In Maryland sanctuary stock assessments use a random sampling design with defined strata (sanctuaries) with patent tongs, the efficiency of the latter being estimated by independent diver collection. 
(d)    Provide quantitative estimators of disease prevalence and intensity in all sampled populations bay-wide, supported by inter-laboratory blind reading of histological preparations to insure consistency.
(e)    Create a linked series of web sites where the contributing elements can be viewed, and a bay-wide estimator be made available to interested parties.


Oyster planting protocols to deter losses to cownose ray predation.
NOAA-NCBO. $148,191. 7/1/2011-6/30/2013.
This is a collaborative project between VIMS (Roger Mann, Bob Fisher, Melissa Southworth), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (James Wesson), the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Tommy Leggett, Bill Goldsborough) and an industry partner, Cowart’s Seafood and Bevans Oyster (A.J. Erskine). The overall objective of the proposed effort is to examine and identify predator deterrence options that reduce or eliminate predation loss of oyster seed, planted for restoration or culture purposes, to cow nose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus). The unique aspect of the project is that it will be performed at an industry scale in the field at sites of know prior ray impact. The contributing objectives will be to examine for each of spat on shell and natural seed sources the impact of:

a)    pre-planting preparation of the target area (be this a lease or reserve).
b)    planting density of seed and substrate.
c)    overplanting with additional shell post seed planting (this will increase subsequent harvest costs),
d)    varying harvest strategies with time post planting.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation


Collaborative research: summer flounder collections for regional examination of sex ratio and size. Rutgers University. $25,672. 7/1/2010-12/31/2011.
This is a multi-institution project lead by Rutgers University. Summer flounder are an important commercial and recreational targte species from New England to North Carolina. The species in unusual in that there larger fish are almost entirely female. This presents a challenge for fishery management wherein conservation of spawning females is a desired end point. The objective of this project is to document the relationship age and length of summer flounder to sex throughout its latitudinal range.

Virginia oyster management and restoration. NOAA-NCBO. $214,000. 7/1/2010 – 6/30/2012.
This is a collaborative project between VIMS (Roger Mann, Ryan Carnegie, Melissa Southworth), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (James Wesson). It has three elements. Two of these focus on large-scale restoration and are lead by VMRC. The third element, lead by VIMS, focuses on the population biology of oysters in the Piankatank River, a river managed for seed oyster production by VMRC. Building on previous work that addressed population dynamics and substrate (shell) budgets in managed systems this work addresses temporal changes in size and fecundity of spawning broodstock, the viability of spawned eggs, and the stock – recruitment relationship.

Shell budgets as a tool in oyster restoration and fishery management – application in Louisiana Primary State Seed Grounds. $150,000. National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. 11/1/2010-10/31/2012.
This is a collaborative project between VIMS (Roger Mann), University of New Orleans (Tom Soniat), Rutgers University (Eric Powell), Old Dominion University (John Klinck), and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (Patrick Banks). The objective of the Shell Marine Habitat Program of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation is to support conservation and restoration activities that result in measurable benefits to key species and their habitats within coastal ecosystems. Of particular interest is increasing in a measurable manner, populations of the oyster, Crassostrea virginica. We focus on the Primary Public Oyster Seed Grounds (PPSG) of the State of Louisiana. We propose a critical examination of the rate functions that drive both the creation of oyster habitat and its loss in large-scale environmental management application. As such we will provide a critical tool for restoration and maintenance of native oyster populations that insures both maximum productivity and assured longevity of the oyster habitat and the populations it supports. Such a habitat based restoration tool is currently absent from every oyster restoration project nationwide. Thus, while the product is developed for the Louisiana effort, it has immediate application nationwide and will provide particular value to management of commercially-exploited oyster populations.

Tom Soniat, Professor/Research, University of New Orleans, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA 70148 (UNO), 504-280-7041

Climate Change Impacts in Virginia: Natural resource data records as tools to assess continuing trends. NOAA $120,000. 2/1/2009-1/31/2012.
This is a collaborative project within VIMS between Marcia Berman, Carl Hershner and Roger Mann. Climate change – understanding its causes and magnitude, and proposing and implementing actions to counter its adverse impacts - is the global challenge of our generation. The appointment of a Climate Change Commission in 2008 by Governor Kaine underscored the acknowledged importance of this now widely accepted phenomenon at the local and state level. The Commonwealth of Virginia lacks a single document that both describes climate impacts on its component ecosystems from the Shenandoah to the Atlantic shelf break, and integrates these individual impacts in a cumulative and interactive manner to demonstrate the cascading effect across this “transect” to predict the magnitude of resulting biological and societal change. In the absence of such a holistic, integrated description we cannot provide responsible advice and preemptive actions to counter negative impacts. The 2008 Climate Change Commission focused on carbon footprint reduction in the Commonwealth, but it does not propose to provide detailed natural resource management advice at the level of the individual biological resource (forestry, arable or livestock crops, wetlands, fisheries, and natural reserves to mention but a few) that is generated from an integrated consideration of all component ecosystems. An earlier award by the Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE) for a project entitled “Climate Change Impacts in Virginia: Status of Natural Resource Data Records as Tools to Assess Continuing Trends” focused on inventory the natural resource data sets in Virginia for climate assessment tools. The objective of the NOAA effort is to assemble and make widely available the described data into integrated databases that can be used for (i) retrospective analyses of trends and (ii) assuming they prove tractable, the basis of predictive scenarios of climate change impact on individual and collective ecosystems in the Commonwealth, with obvious “downstream” identification of economic impacts.

Link to CCRM for climate change information.

Collaborative Research: Climate Change and Responses in a Coupled Marine System. NSF. $613,707. Lead PI Bonnie McCay (Rutgers) VIMS award $99,999. 10/1/2009-9/30/2012.
This is a multi-institution project lead by Bonnie McCay at Rutgers University with collaborators Dale Haidvogel (Rutgers), Janice McDonnel and Carolyn Creed (Rutgers), Sylvia Brandt (U.Mass), Eric Powell and Daphne Munroe (Rutgers), Eileen Hofmann, and John Klinck (ODU) and Roger Mann (VIMS). The research program is focused on understanding how climate forcing affects an exploited benthic dominant species in the mid-Atlantic, the surfclam (Spisula solidissima) and with human components of the system, namely harvesting, processing, distribution, management and industry economics. The project focus is on the fisheries themselves, including harvesting, processing, and distribution, and the dominant governance institutions, which consist of laws, scientific enterprises, management councils, and activities such as data collection and enforcement. The project is in its second year, but we have already implemented a coupled surfclam growth model with a ROMS-based circulation model for the Middle Atlantic Bight continental shelf.  Simulations with this model show that temperature does limit surfclam distribution. The post-settlement model is being verified against survey data provided by NMFS. Modeling of the adults shows that water-column primary production is insufficient to sustain the surfclam stock. Benthic production must be an important contributor to surfclam food resources over the clam’s range.
Link to project web page and products at Rutgers
Link to NMFS NEFC web site stock assessments

Shell substrate conditions and predator exclusion in oyster restoration. Virginia Oyster Reef Heritage Foundation. $25,000. Roger Mann (VIMS) and James Wesson (VMRC) 5/1/2011-4/30/2012.
This is a collaborative project between VIMS (Roger Mann) and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (James Wesson). It has two sections. The first focuses on the time based degradation of shell as a substrate for oyster settlement and metamorphosis. The second focuses on predator exclusion to increase survival of planted oyster spat on shell from both natural and hatchery sources. Virginia has made very substantial investments in oyster restoration using planted shell substrate in both extensive mode (effective monolayers covering large areas) and as three-dimensional reefs with relief extending from the bottom to the intertidal. In all instances a short-term enhancement of recruitment is observed, only to be followed by a long-term (years) decay in the strength of the annual recruitment signal. A challenge in developing long-term, stable populations of oysters is the maintenance of the shell substrate base for future generations to recruit upon. In pre-colonial oyster populations this growth of new shell was maintained by the growing edges of long-lived, old oysters in cleaner water than is currently the case in the Chesapeake Bay. Recent calculations describing shell budgets in extant Virginia oyster reefs suggest that most are losing shell substrate on an annual basis – the only populations maintaining a balanced shell substrate budget are the only such reefs that enjoy predictable high recruitment of young oysters each and every year. In this project we seek to understand two elements of this complex problem. These are (1) the rates of degradation of the shell surface as a settlement substrate, and (2) the survival of the newly recruited spat in the field.

Link to Stock Assessment by Patent Tong
Link to Oysters and Carbonate Budgets in Estuaries