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Ambitious Vision for NC’s Oysters Outlined in New 5-Year Plan

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North Carolina's commercial oyster landings rake in millions of dollars in revenue each year. (Adobe Stock)
North Carolina's commercial oyster landings rake in millions of dollars in revenue each year. (Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
April 29, 2021

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. -- Restoring oysters can boost water quality and offer shoreline protection from storms, and this week the North Carolina Coastal Federation released its five-year action plan, outlining steps to keep this valuable shellfish thriving.

Leda Cunningham, officer for Conserving Marine Life in the U.S. at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said North Carolina's oysters are in good shape, but face threats from storms, poor water quality and the impacts of climate change.

She believes the new Oyster Blueprint offers an example for other coastal states of how to restore and protect oyster populations.

"In those 15 or so years, it's led to measurable progress in the state, and that is really a result of the inclusive systematic approach that Coastal Fed has taken with its partners to identify challenges and opportunities with this special resource," Cunningham stated.

Guided by the Blueprint over the years, North Carolina has restored nearly 450 acres of oyster habitat, grown shellfish aquaculture from a $250,000 to $5 million industry, increased the number of shellfish farms in the state tenfold, and developed a nationally recognized shell recycling program.

Erin Fleckenstein, coastal scientist for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, said the plan includes new management strategies to help safeguard North Carolina's waters, particularly in the Newport River and Stump Sound.

"Make sure that they are pristine and healthy to grow oysters, making it safe enough to harvest oysters from those beds, allowing for continual recreational opportunities," Fleckenstein outlined.

Cunningham added oysters add numerous benefits for coastal communities.

"Restoring oysters would add so much value to the coast," Cunningham asserted. "More oysters mean cleaner water, better recreational fishing, more wildlife, more resilient shorelines, more fishing jobs and more healthy local food."

Goals outlined in the Blueprint include building an additional 100 acres of oyster sanctuary in Pamlico Sound, creating a cohesive oyster shell recycling program along the coast and in specific inland areas to help support habitat-restoration projects, and building 200 acres of reef to support wild harvest.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Disclosure: The Pew Charitable Trusts - Environmental Group contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Climate Change/Air Quality, Consumer Issues, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Health Issues, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Salmon Recovery. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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