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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

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

Marine Fisheries

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N.C. Oyster Sanctuary Program

North Carolina has one of the most active shellfish restoration efforts in the country. One of the largest programs in this effort is the Oyster Sanctuary Program. An oyster sanctuary is an area where the harvest of oysters is prohibited. These areas are protected to encourage the growth of large, healthy oyster populations that can act as a brood stock for the rest of North Carolina's coastal waters. Each oyster produces millions of eggs annually that are carried by currents and tides to surrounding areas. By developing and protecting a brood stock, the availability of robust native oysters in adjacent waters increases. In these areas, the Division of Marine Fisheries deploys material to build reefs and encourage baby oysters to settle and grow.

In addition to attracting native oyster larvae, these reefs also act as habitat for clams, small and juvenile finfish, crabs and shrimp, which in turn attract larger fish. While the sanctuaries are closed to oyster fishing they are open to hook-and-line anglers, making oyster sanctuaries popular and productive sportfishing spots. Through continued association with various academic institutions, state and federal agencies and collaboration with commercial fishermen, the program continues to develop more refined techniques for siting, building and monitoring oyster sanctuaries.

How are the sanctuaries constructed?

Within sanctuary boundaries, material is deployed using a grid array of mounds, piles and pre-fabricated oyster collecting units. This design scheme is engineered to provide quality surface area, vertical relief and complexity. Complexity includes characteristics like profile, variations in bottom contour, refuge availability and surface area for stationary marine plants and invertebrates — all requirements for successful reefs. To create this habitat, reefs are constructed using a variety of suitable material for oyster settlement, survival and growth. These materials include:
  • Natural oyster and clam shell
  • Class B rip-rap marl
  • Reef Balls™
  • Concrete pipes
  • Recycled crushed concrete
  • Various types of mined rock

Because bottom disturbing gear is prohibited on sanctuaries, the Division of Marine Fisheries seeks input on the best area to locate a site to minimize interactions with trawls, while maximizing the benefits of the site to oystermen and recreational fishermen.

Where are the sanctuaries?

Sanctuary sites are built on previously viable oyster producing sites or sites where environmental factors favor oyster growth and survival. Currently there are 13 existing oyster sanctuaries and two in the planning stages. Each sanctuary is marked with either buoys or pilings designating the area as a sanctuary in the following locations:

  • Croatan Sound
  • Crab Hole
  • Pea Island
  • Long Shoal
  • Gibbs Shoal
  • Deep Bay
  • West Bluff
  • Clam Shoal
  • Middle Bay
  • Ocracoke
  • Racoon Island
  • Neuse River
  • West Bay
  • Cape Fear River (Proposed)
GPS coordinates and details for each sanctuary are available here as well as provided by the artificial reef guide. Please check out the interactive reef guide, print the guide at home, or request a weatherproof print guide when they become available.

Sanctuary Details

  1. Croatan Sound Established in 1996, this sanctuary is comprised 1,800 tons of rip rap, oyster shells surf clam shells and limestone marl. In 2013, 290 Pallet Reef Balls were deployed on the site. Partners include the Division of Marine Fisheries and NOAA Fisheries.
  2. Crab Hole Established in 2003, this sanctuary is comprised 38,076 tons of rip rap. Partners include the Division of Marine Fisheries, Division of Coastal Management, N.C. Department of Transportation and the Nature Conservancy.
  3. Pea Island Established in 2015, this sanctuary consists of 900 tons of precast concrete, 1,800 tons of processed recycled concrete and 360 Ultra Reef Balls™. Funding for this sanctuary was provided through the N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing License sales.
  4. Long Shoal Established in 2013, 880 Ultra Reef Balls™ were deployed in collaboration with the United States Navy as a mitigation project for a nearby bombing range in Pamlico Sound and The Nature Conservancy.
  5. Gibbs Shoal Established in 2009, this sanctuary consists of 16,075 tons of rip rap limestone marl, 2,674 Ultra Reef Balls™ and and 924 “reef cubes.” Funding for this sanctuary was provided through N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing license License sales.
  6. Deep Bay Established in 1996, this sanctuary is comprised 1,300 tons of rip rap, limestone, oyster shells surf clam shells and an additional 290 Bay Reef Balls™ which were deployed on the site in 2014. Partners include the Division of Marine Fisheries and NOAA Fisheries.
  7. West Bluff This sanctuary is located south of Bluff Point and east of Great Island between Swan Quarter Bay and Wysocking Bay. It consists of approximately 56 150-ton mounds, 10 Ultra Reef Balls™, 75 Pallet Reef Balls™ and 125 Bay Reef Balls™. West Bluff is planned to be the location of future expansion from a US Army Corps of Engineers mitigation project.
  8. Clam Shoal Established in 1996, this sanctuary is comprised 38,359 tons of rip rap limestone marl. Partners include the Division of Marine Fisheries, NOAA Fisheries and The Nature Conservancy.
  9. Middle Bay Established in 2004, this sanctuary is comprised 900 tons of rip rap limestone marl.
  10. Ocracoke Established in 2004, this sanctuary is comprised 11,347 tons of rip rap limestone marl. Partners include the Division of Marine Fisheries, NOAA Fisheries and The Nature Conservancy.
  11. Raccoon Island Established in 2013, this sanctuary is comprised of 1,169 Ultra Reef Balls™, 150 tons of reinforced concrete pipe and 157 tons of processed recycled concrete. Funding for this sanctuary was provided through the N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing License sales.
  12. Neuse River: This sanctuary is located on the south shore between South River and Turnagain Bay, just east of Brown's Creek and currently has 50 - 150 ton mounds.
  13. West Bay: Established in 1996, this sanctuary is comprised 2,000 tons of rip rap, oyster shells, surf clam shells and limestone marl. In 2014, 100 Mini Bay Reef Balls were deployed to enhance the site. Partners include the Division of Marine Fisheries and NOAA Fisheries.
 

Sanctuary Name

Latitude

Longitude

Permitted Area (acres)

Developed Area (acres)

Intentional Void (acres)

Available Area (acres)

Material Type

Total Tons of Material

1

Croatan Sound

35.804737

-75.638933

7.7

5.4

1.6

0.7

Limestone Marl Riprap
Reef Balls

2,093

2

Crab Hole

35.381877

-76.369353

30.5

30.5

0

0.0

Limestone Marl Riprap

36,489

3

Gibbs Shoal

34.980862

-76.356053

30

30

0

0.0

Limestone Marl Riprap
Reef Ball
Reef Cube

22,447

4

Deep Bay

35.291333

-75.619667

17.2

5.69

6.9

4.6

Limestone Marl Riprap
Reef Balls

1,749

5

West Bluff

35.728055

-75.675138

19.9

9.1

3.8

7.0

Limestone Marl Riprap
Reef Balls

10,162

6

Clam Shoal

35.180250

-75.993867

58.2

31.4

0

26.8

Limestone Marl Riprap

38,359

7

Middle Bay

35.235967

-76.502967

4.6

0.4

0

4.2

Limestone Marl Riprap

900

8

Ocracoke

35.007903

-76.532583

76

25.44

0

50.6

Limestone Marl Riprap
Reef Balls
Precast Concrete
Processed Recycled Concrete
(3) 65'-130' Vessels

15,183

9

Neuse River

35.305000

-76.168150

5.7

5.3

0

0.4

Limestone Marl Riprap

7,357

10

West Bay

35.455928

-75.930723

6.7

2.23

3.9

0.6

Limestone Marl Riprap
Reef Balls

2,329

11

Long Shoal

35.563450

-75.830600

10

6.6

2.3

1.1

Reef Balls

2,173

12

Raccoon Island

35.090366

-76.391233

10

7

3

0.0

Reef Balls
Precast Concrete
Processed Recycled Concrete

1,824

13

Little Creek

35.043600

-76.514820

20.7*

9.8
(proposed)

10.9

0.0

Limestone Marl
Reef Balls
Precast Concrete
Processed Recycled Concrete
Concrete Blocks
Reef Pyramids
Granite Riprap
Basalt Riprap

5,880

14

Pea Island

35.666000

-75.615670

32

18.6
(under construction)

13.4

0.0

Reef Balls
Precast Concrete
Processed Recycled Concrete

3,420

15

Cape Fear River

TBD

TBD

Proposed

TBD

TBD

TBD

TBD

TBD

16-19

USACE Mitigation**

TBD

TBD

160***

42 (proposed)

TBD

TBD

TBD

TBD

 

Total

   

329.2

159.1

 

95.9

 

150,365

Future Sanctuaries

University research and continual monitoring by the Division of Marine Fisheries has found the reef network is extremely successful as a source of oyster larvae to the overall Pamlico Sound population. New sanctuary sites, will help support the current stock and likely improve our oyster population in the long term. A more abundant oyster population directly translates to improved water quality and health for the ecosystem, as well as more oysters available for commercial harvest.

Oyster sanctuaries are designed and built as a way to give back to North Carolinians. Therefore, the Division of Marine Fisheries seeks public input on the best area to locate a site to minimize interactions with trawls, while maximizing the benefits of the site to oystermen and recreational fishermen. Public meetings are held in the early planning stages of each proposed reef so that comments from the community can be incorporated into reef siting and design.

Two new sanctuary sites are planned for the coming years. Construction will begin in mid-2016 on the Little Creek site, in the mouth of the Neuse River. Construction on the Cape Fear site, south of Wilmington in the Cape Fear River, will follow. Refer to the map above for coordinates.

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

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