SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Oysters play an integral role to the health of the North Carolina shoreline. They also add significantly to the state’s economy.
Through Friday, Oct. 15, the shellfish are being celebrated as part of North Carolina Oyster Week, presented by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, N.C. Oyster Trail, North Carolina Sea Grant, and the N.C. Coastal Federation. Five days of programming puts the focus on the ecology of the oysters, as well as its impact on the Tar Heel State economically.
According to a study from North Carolina State University, cultivated or farmed oysters make up half of the shellfish industry, which brings in $27 million annually to the state. It has also provided 532 jobs.
Oyster harvesting in North Carolina was at its peak In 1889, wherein 800,000 bushels were harvested a year and shipped to New York and San Francisco, according to the NC Coastal Federation.
Throughout the years, it has seen highs and lows, in the mid-’90s reaching extreme dips, due to over-harvesting. Yet, pollution, hurricanes, predators, and other disasters have played a role in threatening the shellfish aquaculture.
- 1960 200,000 bushels harvested a year
- 1994 35,000
- 2004 70,000
- 2014 137,000
- 2015 119,000
- 2018 119,000
- 2019 157,000
Though numbers have increased over the years, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries still lists oysters as a “species of concern.”
Keeping the waterways with a healthy bounty of the bivalve mollusks is important for its benefits to marine ecology. Oysters purify the water; one oyster can filter 50 gallons a day. The shells also help build back habitats by providing a stable foundation on the waterbed floor for other marine life to thrive on. In turn, the beds work toward protecting the shoreline from erosion.
The North Carolina Coastal Federation has been focusing on improving wild oyster restoration along the coast and released in spring its North Carolina Oyster Blueprint 2021-2025. The federation included eight recommendations:
- Protect and restore water quality in shellfish-growing waters
- Establish sufficient acreage to protect oyster reefs and supplement wild oyster stock
- Expand the use of living shorelines
- Implement a coordinated oyster shell recycling program
- Manage natural oyster habitats in public trust areas
- Use clutch planting to replenish oyster habitats for commercial use
- Build a $45 million shellfish aquaculture industry
- Communicate the blueprint strategies to stakeholders and the public
As part of NC Oyster Week and the kick-off to oyster season, individuals are reminded to utilize local oyster shell recycling centers, as it’s illegal to trash used shells. The federation uses them to restore reefs, which allow baby oysters to attach to the shells for more growth. Oyster recycling drop-off sites include:
New Hanover County/Wilmington
- Seawater Lane (next to the UNCW Aquaculture Lab), Wrightsville Beach
- Bridge Barrier Road, Carolina Beach State Park
- Entrance to Airlie Gardens
- New Hanover County Landfill
- Atlantic Seafood Retail Market in Hampstead
Also throughout NC Oyster Week, many eateries in the tri-county region are participating in events and offering specials on locally harvested shellfish. Here are four places welcoming diners to celebrate:
6623 Market St. • catchwilmington.com
Chef Keith Rhodes has been specializing in local seafood for almost two decades now on the culinary scene. Every Wednesday at Catch the chef features half-priced oysters. As part of Oyster Week, he also will featured “Dirty South Oysters,” local oysters roasted on the half shell stacked with pimento cheese, herbies collards, bacon pimento cheese, and butter crunch, through Friday.
1 S. Front St. • seabirdnc.com
Located at the corner of Front and Market streets, downtown, chef Dean Neff’s seafood restaurant focuses on sustainability and season. Neff works with local fishermen and oyster farms. Hold Fast Oyster Company’s Matt Schwab who sources an exclusive oyster named after Seabird, will be at the restaurant 5 – 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 and 15. Shucked Seabirdies will be offered for $1 each.
Seaview Crab Company
1515 Marstellar St. • seaviewcrabcompany.com
Through Friday, the Marstellar Street location will offer oyster specials to customers. The seafood market and restaurant carries numerous varieties of cultured and wild oysters for the community to purchase. It also has a wholesale business that services over 60 restaurants.
Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar — Surf City
13460 NC Highway • theshuckinshack.com/location/surf-city
North of Wilmington in Surf City, the local seafood franchise, Shuckin’ Shack, will be hosting a fundraiser for the NC Coastal Federation. There will be plenty of Permuda Island oysters from cosponsor Three Little Spats Oyster Company. Also the band Back of the Boat will entertain. The oyster roast takes place from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery
6201 Oleander Dr. • wbbeer.com
Wrightsville Beach Brewery owner Jud Watkins said the restaurant focuses on procuring oysters harvested within 40 miles of Wilmington.
“Having had oysters from all over the world, I find our oysters to have the best salinity, with the brightest, cleanest flavor,” he said. “It’s like kissing the ocean!”
The brewery team will be selling oysters raw on the half shell and fried, served atop kimchi collards, all week. Plus, starting Oct. 15, the restaurant will do steamed local clusters.
The celebrations won’t stop just because NC Oyster Week does. The brewery will host its annual Oysterberfest on Oct. 23 with live music provided by Back Pocket Buddha and Into The Fog, plus raw and steamed oysters on special.
A full list of events can be found here.
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