The Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is a keystone species in northeast Florida estuaries. In addition to providing important ecosystem services, such as water filtration and shoreline protection, the oyster supports a valuable recreational and commercial fishery. However, scientists, managers, and oyster harvesters are concerned about the long-term viability of oyster populations. In the Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) National Estuarine Research Reserve, water quality issues have caused some areas to close to harvesting, potentially intensifying harvesting pressure on remaining open areas. Other factors, such as predation, disease, and increased salinity, can also slow growth or kill oysters. This complicated situation led stakeholders and reserve staff to establish the Guana Tolomato Matanzas Oyster Water Quality Task Force and initiate new research efforts.
To address questions identified by the Task Force, this project conducted a modeling investigation to improve oyster population assessment and management. Incorporating the input of end users and local stakeholders, the project adapted an existing oyster population model to study the relative influence of anthropogenic and environmental factors on oyster populations and identify variables that should be monitored to assess long-term sustainability.