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Storm of Controversy Surrounds NC Shellfish Legislation

Oyster aquaculture is a growing industry, and would include creating structures along the North Carolina coast, much like these in Florida. (Florida Sea Grant)
Oyster aquaculture is a growing industry, and would include creating structures along the North Carolina coast, much like these in Florida. (Florida Sea Grant)
June 25, 2018

OUTER BANKS, N.C. — The crab pots, natural habitats and scenic vistas along North Carolina's coastline could soon be obstructed by rebar, netting and buoys if state lawmakers push ahead with House Bill 361.

Coastal advocates are concerned that the bill - designed to create and promote a leasing program for a growing aquaculture industry - doesn't have the proper protections in place. Last week, the state Senate approved a Conference Report that recommends moving ahead with a vote. But marine scientist Louis Daniel said lawmakers need to slow the process down.

"Once you go out and you start leasing these areas to folks, it's pretty much done,” Daniel said. “And you put one of these leases out there, it can significantly impact the public's ability to use that public trust bottom in the future."

He warned if the bill is signed into law, some access to coastal bottoms available for public crabbing and fishing would be eliminated. Supporters say a larger aquaculture industry will create jobs and help coastal economies.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation opposes the Conference Report findings. As a consultant for the federation, Daniels said he does see some beneficial components to aquaculture for the coast - but not without more time and research.

"We think there are good things in the bill,” he said. “And the Wildlife Federation fully supports the development of an environmentally and ecologically sound aquaculture program. We can look at lessons learned from other jurisdictions that have been involved in this issue a little longer than we have."

Other states, including Washington, have had problems with parts of their aquaculture industries, including the use of a chemical intended to combat sea lice that ended up affecting shrimp and lobster populations. Daniel said instances like that underscore the need for caution.

"Once you get these big companies and once you get these big investors coming in, and they've received these multiple 200-acre leases, and they're putting hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment out there to start developing their oysters,” he cautioned, “they're going to have some political horsepower from a funding standpoint, to come in and say, 'Whoa whoa whoa, you know - you guys have passed this bill and now you want to change things.'"

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC