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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Recreational Licenses

Marine Fisheries

Recreational Licenses Help Fund Fishing Reef/Oyster Sanctuary

By Cheryl Gilgo
Fish Eye News
March 2009

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries plans to begin in May to build a new coastal fishing and oyster reef off Engelhard.

When completed, the reef will encompass 30 acres of bottom off Gibbs Shoal, but, depending on funding, that might take a few years, said Craig Hardy, chief of the division’s Resource Enhancement Section.

“It will be 7.5 acres the first year,” Hardy said.

A $445,560 grant from Coastal Recreational Fishing License revenues will fund this first of four construction phases.

The reef will consist of multiple mounds, with each mound ranging from 5 to 9 feet in height. The division will build the mounds with 150 tons of Class B rip-rap, a limestone rock crushed and sorted to range in size from a basketball to a football.

When completed, the reef will consist of 240 mounds approximately 75 feet apart, 6 feet in height. Recycled oyster shells with spat (juvenile oysters) on the shells will be placed on the mounds to start the colonization process, as well as provide habitat for finfish.

“The state invests money into the sanctuary program because research indicates that oysters that can live long and grow large will reproduce and help to develop stronger and more disease resistant spat,” stated Stopher Slade, oyster sanctuary biologist for the division’s Resource Enhancement Section.

There will be 6 feet of navigable water over the reef and it will be marked with eight white, class 4 buoys.

The state will prohibit the use of trawls, dredges and other types of bottom-disturbing fishing gear, but hook-and-line fishing will be allowed.

Oyster reefs not only help restore oyster populations, they provide habitat where juvenile fish find food and shelter, and in turn attract bigger fish. They serve as dispersal points for oyster larvae and as finfish habitat.

Additionally, oyster reefs enhance water quality. A single adult oyster can filter 50 to 60 gallons of water per day.

The Engelhard reef is just the latest in the division’s ongoing efforts to rehabilitate oyster populations.

It will be the fifth oyster reef built since the mid-1990s.

And reef building is a relatively new method of oyster resource rehabilitation in North Carolina. The state’s Cultch Planting Program has been around since the 1920s.

“Funds are earmarked for cultch planting so that the resource can be maintained for shell fishermen to harvest (their) limits,” commented Clay Caroon, biologist supervisor for the division’s Resource Enhancement Section.

The division plants 25 to 35 new cultch sites every year, primarily in bay areas or shallow rivers. It uses 500 to 20,000 bushels of oyster shell per mound and supplements them with # 4 marl, which is rock about the size of a quarter.

The division determines where to site cultch plantings by looking at bottom condition and listening to fishermen at public meetings. The sites normally go in areas that are protected from wind so that shell fishermen can still harvest in adverse weather.

Harvesting from cultch planted sites is legal so long as fishermen abide by the 3-inch size limit and other regulations.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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