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Rhode Island Oyster Restoration Initiative

Oyster Reef Restoration State Initiative

FY 2020 sign up deadline: May 15, 2020


An oyster shell.Oyster beds were historically prolific throughout RI estuarine waters and most likely contributed to the productivity and diversity of marine and estuarine fish and wildlife species. However, few native oyster beds currently remain in RI to provide essential fish and wildlife habitat functions. In addition to serving as a high protein food source for migratory waterfowl and other marine organisms, the water filtering capacity of healthy and abundant oyster beds can improve water quality as well as water clarity.

Oyster reefs and beds (reefs) provide essential ecological habitat and are an integral and critical component of restoring coastal habitat.  Oysters themselves are the keystone component of that habitat structure and without them, the habitat will not persist.  Oyster reefs are three dimensional structural habitats; they are made up of living oysters and cultch or the remnants of prior oysters that have died. These reefs not only provide a three dimensional habitat, they also provide the broodstock (i.e., reproductive capacity) necessary for recruitment of new oysters to settle and grow on the reefs.  Without the growth of live oysters and the proliferation of new oysters, there would be no reef accretion. Therefore, the habitat structure would decline as it will not keep up with natural erosion and subsidence.

In addition, oyster reefs provide critical structural habitat for a myriad of finfish and mobile invertebrates. They act as structural habitat for sessile fauna (e.g., sponges, tunicates) that provide important services.  Oysters themselves are efficient “pumps” constantly filtering the water in vast amounts.  This filtration provides the “coupling” of the water column and the benthos, thereby removing filtrate from the water, increasing water clarity, removing excess nitrogen, and promoting seagrass growth among other things.


Dumping oysters as part of an oyster restoration project.The purpose and goal is to work with aquaculture oyster growers to help restore the functions and values of oyster reefs by creating new reefs in approved areas. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has funding to assist with the following NRCS conservation practices:

643 – Restoration and Management of Declining Habitats - This practice payment rate includes the process of obtaining approved spat on shell through grow out and deployment at approved restoration sites as well as obtaining and deployment of cultch (shell) for which the live oysters are placed on top. The practices also includes funding for monitoring the success of the site.

472 – Access Control - This practice payment consists of demarking the approved restoration site with buoys.

Eligibility - Who Can Apply?

  • Must be an existing aquaculture oyster producer.
  • Own, rent, or have control of land (i.e., lease).
  • Comply with adjusted gross income limitations (AGI) provisions.

Other considerations:

  • DEM and CRMC must designate the site and provide land control documentation.
  • Grower (with DEM and CRMC) must obtain all relevant permits.
  • Cultch must be inspected.

How to apply:

Contact the local NRCS field office to speak with one of our District Conservationists (Southern or Eastern Districts) to begin the program application process. Information and application forms are available on the EQIP page on our website.