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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Oyster Restoration

Marine Fisheries

State Expands Oyster Restoration Programs

By Kelly Odom
Fish Eye News
Aug. 2008 Archives

The N. C. Division of Marine Fisheries hopes to one day operate a full-production oyster hatchery to generate oyster seed for state shellfish rehabilitation sites.

The agency could be on its way because 2008 appropriations have been directed toward expansion of the oyster sanctuary program and a research hatchery.

“These funds will provide for the transition from a pilot scale program into a full scale restoration effort capable of providing increased oyster sanctuary structures, larvae and seeded shell for sanctuaries and hand harvest only areas, and expansion of the oyster shell recycling efforts,” said Craig Hardy, chief of the DMF Resource Enhancement Section.

It’s all a part of a two-year oyster hatchery plan developed by the N.C. Division of Aquariums in 2005-2007 that identified ways hatcheries could be used to restore the native Eastern Oyster population and increase commercial oyster harvests in North Carolina.

Three goals for state are:
1. public awareness and education on the ecological value of a healthy oyster population and ways oysters can help;

2. meaningful research to develop appropriate brood stock for regions and areas, identify larval transport, determine suitable sites for sanctuaries, and provide support for commercial shellfish mariculture through private nurseries;

3. a means to produce larvae and set those larvae in quantities sufficient for seeding oyster sanctuaries and hand harvest areas.

The plan suggested incorporating public awareness through cooperative projects at high schools, at each of the state aquariums, and through DMF and N.C. Sea Grant public outreach venues. The research needs would be centered at a research scale hatchery. The plan for providing restoration scale larval production would be addressed through the construction of a production scale shellfish hatchery that would operate in cooperation with the research hatchery, but most likely at a different location.

The production scale hatchery has been postponed until the research hatchery can be constructed and reaches operational status.

The N.C. General Assembly authorized borrowing $4.3 million to build a research hatchery at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Center for Marine Sciences. The hatchery will develop brood stock with characteristics that would survive added stresses such as disease, dissolved oxygen levels and declining water quality.

The state will use the brood stock to produce larvae for the oyster sanctuary program and then on-hand harvested areas and natural rock areas that need to be seeded.

The 2008 state budget provided $2 million for six new positions to expand the Oyster Sanctuary Program within the Division of Marine Fisheries. The appropriation includes funds for equipment, operations and materials needed to run the program.

DMF plans to increase the deployment capacity with the addition of a purpose-built vessel and crew, including a captain, two engineers, and a crew member.  The funds will also provide for a biologist to direct the expanded sanctuary operations and allow for the hiring of temporary staff during times of peak sanctuary activities and shell collections for the Oyster Shell Recycling Program.

All of these positions will initially be assigned to the Morehead City DMF headquarters, which is currently the base of oyster sanctuary operations.

Once the research hatchery is operational and the capacity of the hatchery and private nurseries/hatcheries is determined, the production scale facility will be evaluated – a process that will probably require several years.

Possible sites for a production-scale hatchery are at Morris Landing near Holly Ridge or in Cedar Island. Other sites will be considered in the future. One key to selecting a site for a production scale facility is the availability of high quality water.

An operation scaled to produce billions of larvae would need to be approximately 20,000 square feet to accommodate the infrastructure required, Hardy said. Staffing for a facility of this type will require six or more full-time permanent staff, augmented by seasonal temporary employees and interns during peak activity periods. Current cost estimates are more than $6 million.

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

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