’Tis the Season for Illegal Oyster Sales
By Cheryl Gilgo
Fish Eye News
Nov. 2008 Archive
In coastal North Carolina, the holidays and oysters just seem to go together. Whether it be oyster dressing, oyster stew or oyster roasts, ‘tis the season.
It is also the time of year when N.C. Marine Patrol steps up enforcement efforts against illegal seafood sales.
“Two seasons are more prone to illegal activity: oyster season and snapper/grouper season,” said Marine Patrol Lt. Harold Knudsen.
Because illegal sales often happen between fishermen and neighbors, it’s hard to catch, Knudsen said.
Particularly this year, with the flailing economy, people may try to peddle oysters more than in the past, said Marine Patrol Capt. Steve Anthony.
So the Division of Marine Fisheries is asking the public to be more aware of the oysters they purchase.
“A misconception within the public is that commercial license holders that harvest oysters can sell to individuals,” Anthony said. “They can only sell to dealers.”
A Fish Dealer’s License is required for anyone who buys seafood directly from a fisherman. It also is required for fishermen who sell their catch directly to the public.
By law, a fish dealer must post a copy of his dealer’s license at his place of business, even if it is in the back of his truck. A retailer who legally purchases from a dealer for resale, should have copies of his receipt, Knudsen said.
One of the main reasons for these regulations is public safety, Anthony said.
Those who buy straight from the harvester have no way of knowing how long the fishermen has had the oysters, said Steve Murphey, environmental health supervisor with the Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality Section of the Division of Environmental Health.
“Once a harvester sells to a dealer, the dealer has to refrigerate the oysters and keep them in a sanitary manner,” Murphey said. “The dealer is responsible for properly recording temperature, sanitation, labeling, shipping tags and posting a consumer advisory sign.”
The consumer advisory sign warns people with compromised immune systems not to eat raw oysters, Murphey said. Vibrio Vulnificus that may be present in oysters is bacteria that can cause severe illness or death to at-risk people who eat raw shellfish.
Another reason the state requires dealer licenses is to keep records of commercial seafood landings through the division’s Trip Ticket Program.
Dealers are required to record landings information on trip ticket forms that relay information about the fisherman, the dealer purchasing the product, the transaction date, the number of crew on the boat, the area fished, the gear used and the quantity of each species landed. The data gathered from trip tickets help fisheries managers and the commercial fishing industry ensure North Carolina’s marine resource is well managed and abundant.
“Trip ticket information is used for stock assessments, disaster relief (and) socio-economic data,” said Don Hesselman, division License and Statistic Section chief.
“Dealer’s licenses can be taken away if proper reporting is not followed,” said Alan Bianchi, Trip Ticket Program coordinator for the License and Statistic Section.
However, most of the dealers that are inspected do comply with fisheries laws, Knudsen said.