Friday, June 2, 2023

More than 2,000 acres of North Carolina’s coast closed to shellfish harvesting

Masonboro Oyster (1024x768)
North Carolina Marine Fisheries have closed thousands of acres of water off the state’s coast after the areas failed to meet water quality standards. (Photo by Ben Schachtman.)

SOUTHEASTERN, NORTH CAROLINA — State fisheries authorities have closed 2,450 acres of North Carolina’s coastal waters to shellfish harvesting after the waters failed to meet required bacteriological standards.

Locally, nearly 200 acres of coastal waters in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties have been closed until further testing meets quality standards, according to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Shannon Jenkins. The waters were closed as of March 1.

The amount of coastal water space closed to shellfish harvesting this year is a little higher than normal, Jenkins said.

In New Hanover County, six acres have been closed near Oakwinds Marina, and 1 acre has been closed around Canady’s/Mason’s marinas. Seventeen acres have been closed in the Mallard Bay area in Pender County. And in Brunswick County, 120 acres have been closed near Lockwood Folly River, as well as another 55 acres a little further south, in the Spring Creek area.

It is unlawful for anyone to take or attempt to take or possess any shellfish, including oysters, clams or mussels, from these areas, for both recreational or commercial harvesting, while water quality standards are not up to par.

The shellfish classification changes are based on water quality samples tested for the past five years for required sanitary surveys and annual reviews of the state’s shellfish growing areas. Three of the past five years saw above-average rainfall, which Jenkins said has been a factor in the water quality along the coast.

Rainfall causes storm water runoff that washes human and animal waste into coastal waters. These pollutants create pathogens in the water that get inside shellfish, making them unsuitable for human consumption. If consumed, especially raw, the shellfish could potentially cause people to fall ill due to disease or virus, Jenkins said.

“That’s the public health aspect of what were trying to do here,” Jenkins said. “People can become ill. That’s why we have to meet the satisfactory water quality.”

The closings will have an impact on commercial shellfish harvesting along North Carolina’s coast, especially locally, in the Lockwood Folly River region. Jenkins said the Lockwood Folly River is an important commercial area for harvesters. 

“We certainly realize that, and have talked to those individuals in that region,” Jenkins said. “We continue to monitor and future a reopening is possible.”

Jenkins said it’s likely they will do additional testing of Lockwood Folly, and other areas to see what the status is within the year. If water quality testing meets satisfactory standards, areas will reopen. 

In the Stump Sound area (B-9) of Pender County, 50 acres re-opened to shellfish harvesting this month, due to an improvement of water quality after testing in that area. The area closed to shellfish harvesting in March 2016, after a past round of sampling showed poor water quality, Jenkins said.

The Division of Marine Fisheries will continue to monitor all closed areas, and if conditions change, they could reopen in the future, he said. There are roughly 1,000 water quality testing stations along North Carolina’s coast.

For a list of areas closed to shellfish harvesting, including maps of the area, visit the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries website. Another map can be found here.

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