N.C. Coastal Fed releases plan to restore wild oyster populations

The state's wild oyster population has dwindled in recent decades due to over-harvest and pollution. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The state’s wild oyster population has dwindled in recent decades due to over-harvest and pollution. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

This week the North Carolina Coastal Federation released its action plan, the North Carolina Oyster Blueprint 2021-2025.

The plan includes specific steps to help restore wild oyster populations, which have declined in recent decades due to over-harvest and pollution.

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While there’s no known stock count for the state’s wild oyster population, the Division of Marine Fisheries considers the species vulnerable to overfishing.

The fourth iteration of the report identifies eight actionable strategies to improve oyster populations. Previous versions of the plan have helped document the extent of the oyster industry’s economic impact and informed oyster-related funding programs.

The eight recommendations include: 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.

One-third of the state’s coastal waters are permanently closed to shellfish harvest due to pollution and a lack of monitoring capacity, according to the report. “In our prime shellfish growing waters, it’s imperative that the volume and rate of runoff resemble levels that occurred naturally before land use changes occurred,” the report states.

Local residents who wish to support the blueprint can recycle oyster shells to be used in oyster restoration efforts, visit an oyster trail site to support businesses that promote oysters, and volunteer with groups like the N. C. Coastal Federation.

“This report reflects the shared vision of many diverse partners,” Erin Fleckenstein, Coastal Scientist and Regional Manager for North Carolina Coastal Federation and leader of the Oyster Blueprint effort, said in a press release. “One of the great strengths of the Oyster Blueprint is that the very people who together develop this plan are the same ones who will carry it out, with support from state agencies and organizations.”

Learn more about the North Carolina Oyster Blueprint 2021-2025.

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