A numerical model is presented that defines a sustainability criterion as no net loss of shell, and calculates a sustainable harvest of seed (<75 mm) and sack or market oysters (≥75 mm). Stock assessments of the Primary State Seed Grounds conducted east of the Mississippi from 2009 to 2011 show a general trend toward decreasing abundance of sack and seed oysters. Retrospective simulations provide estimates of annual sustainable harvests. Comparisons of simulated sustainable harvests with actual harvests show a trend toward unsustainable harvests toward the end of the time series. Stock assessments combined with shell-neutral models can be used to estimate sustainable harvest and manage cultch through shell planting when actual harvest exceeds sustainable harvest. For exclusive restoration efforts (no fishing allowed), the model provides a metric for restoration success—namely, shell accretion. Oyster fisheries that remove shell versus reef restorations that promote shell accretion, although divergent in their goals, are convergent in their management; both require vigilant attention to shell budgets.
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