Andrew Button Receives the 2023 Melissa Laser Fish Habitat Conservation Award

Beaufort, North Carolina – Andrew Button, the Shellfish Management Division Head of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) was presented the Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership’s (ACFHP) Melissa Laser Fish Habitat Conservation Award on October 16, 2023 at the 81st Annual Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Meeting in Beaufort, North Carolina.

Andrew Button is a consummate professional held in the highest regard by partners in the oyster restoration field in Virginia, Maryland, and globally. Over the past decade, Andrew has led the largest oyster reef construction project in the world in the Piankatank River, Virginia and has been key to the successful implementation of oyster restoration, fishery management, and aquaculture initiatives. His successes in the Piankatank include construction of over 100 acres of reefs funded through federal, state, and non-profit organizations. Visitors to the newly constructed reefs include several recreationally and commercially important fish species such as Gray Snapper, Sandbar sharks, Striped Bass, Cobia, Bluefish, and Summer Flounder. He has also helped restore an additional 24 acres of reefs in the Great Wicomico River. Andrew, through the habitat restoration work led by VMRC, has partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), local watermen, and the oyster industry to successfully establish more than 400 acres of new oyster habitat in Virginia’s waters. Reefs constructed by VMRC under Andrew’s leadership are managed as sanctuaries with some constructed for managed harvests. Enhancement efforts of this scale will benefit the entire ecosystem of the lower Piankatank River and into the Chesapeake Bay. Andrew Button is far and away the most positive, collaborative, and dedicated practitioner, pursuing his passion and love for oyster restoration and management with a smile and an encouraging spirit of cooperation toward large-scale system-level success.

Andrew Button with his 2023 Melissa Laser Fish Habitat Conservation Award. From Left to right: Chris Moore (Chesapeake Bay Foundation, ACFHP Member), Andrew Button (Virginia Marine Resources Commission), Kent Smith (Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, ACFHP Chair), Simen Kaalstad (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, ACFHP Director). Photo credit: ASMFC

The Melissa Laser Fish Habitat Conservation Award is bestowed upon individuals who have furthered the conservation, protection, restoration, and enhancement of habitat for native Atlantic coastal, estuarine-dependent, and diadromous fishes in a unique or extraordinary manner. The award was established in memory of Dr. Melissa Laser who passed away unexpectedly on April 27, 2010. Melissa was a biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources where she worked tirelessly to protect, improve, and restore aquatic ecosystems in Maine and along the entire Atlantic coast. As an astute strategic thinker and leader, Melissa edited and coordinated the Strategic and Operational Plan for the Restoration of Diadromous and Resident Fishes to the Penobscot River. She coordinated fish passage projects, managed and oversaw the biological field staff for the Maine Western Region, and was the Bureau of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat Program lead for habitat restoration studies and projects. She was also an effective champion for Atlantic salmon, directing and coordinating Endangered Species Act-related actions pertaining to the species. Melissa brought her smiling dedication and enthusiasm to the Commission’s Habitat Committee and ACFHP’s Steering Committee.

For more information on the Melissa Laser Award, please visit: http://www.atlanticfishhabitat.org/melissa-laser-fish-habitat-conservation-award/.