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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership - North Carolina Oyster Blueprint

Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership

North Carolina Oyster Blueprint

APNEP has partnered with a diverse group of people involved in growing, harvesting, studying, managing and eating oysters to protect and restore North Carolina's oyster habitats and fishery. The Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for North Carolina: A Blueprint for Action 2015-2020 provides current and future stakeholders with cohesive direction and guidance that allows them to come together as a united force to implement restoration, management and economic development strategies to produce tangible benefits to the environment and economy.  

For more information, please visit the new website launched to serve as the state’s clearinghouse for oyster restoration and preservation efforts: www.ncoysters.org

These efforts are integrated with APNEP’s Oyster Action Team.  APNEP’s oyster-related CCMP actions are as follows:

· Action C5.1: Construct new oyster habitats. 

· Action C5.2: Reduce the adverse impacts of harvests to existing oyster habitat. 

· Action C5.3: Facilitate research to improve oyster restoration technologies and methods. 

·Action D3.1: Develop and implement a strategy to improve decision-makers' understanding of the costs and benefits of environmental protection, restoration, planning, and monitoring.

Recent accomplishments include the release of the report "Economic Analysis of the Costs and Benefits of Restoration and Enhancement of Shellfish Habitat and Oyster Propagation in North Carolina" by RTI International.  The report highlights the coastal habitat enhancement programs managed by our partner, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries: the Shellfish Rehabilitation Program, Oyster Sanctuary Program and Artificial Reef Program. 

The economic analysis demonstrated that every $1 invested in the coastal habitat enhancement programs yields $4 in benefits.  For more information, please read the press release and download the report below:  

      Press release | Full report

CCMP actions: C5.1, C5.2, C5.3

"Becoming the Napa Valley of Oysters." Read about the recent Sound Economic Development Summit, hosted by the North Carolina Coastal Federation, here.

Economic Benefits & Ecosystem Services from Oysters

  • Investing in oyster restoration creates about 100 new jobs a year in the fishing industry!
  • Investment of $5 million in oyster restoration created over 50 jobs and approximately $10 million in revenue benefits.
  • Oyster reef restoration doesn’t just help oysters, if also provides valuable habitat for black drum, blue crab, red drum, flounder, and other valuable fish species!
  • An oyster bed may support over 300 different organisms at a time.
  • One hectare of oyster reef provides on average $10,000 (2011 data) in value!  Much of this comes through pollution removal.
  • Oyster reef restoration will yield a $2.38 benefit for every dollar invested through 2025 and a $4.05 benefit for every dollar invested through 2040.
  • Adult oysters are capable of filtering 15-35 gallons of water a day.
  • North Carolina is in competition with other states for “cultch” (material dumped into the water to give oyster larvae a place to attach and grow), but is not paying as high a price for this material and so is unable to procure as much.  Virginia is willing to pay nearly double the amount for cultch that NC pays. 
  • Oyster lovers claim that oysters harvested from different parts of NC have different flavors.  Stump Sound oysters are particularly well known for their quality flavor.  This may be due to differing salinity conditions. 
  • Oysters are being used to protect Brown Pelican nesting habitat on Beacon Island from erosion.

The people of eastern North Carolina have a deep and historical connection to the oyster reefs of the Albemarle Pamlico sound.  It has historically been a large and profitable resource, with 800,000 bushels (5.6 million lbs) being harvested in 1889.  Through overharvesting, habitat loss, disease, and pollution, that number dropped to 35,000 bushels in 1994. 

With recovery efforts beginning in earnest, those numbers have seen a major increase recently, though the harvest numbers are nowhere near the historical highs.  If oyster harvesting is to become a major part of North Carolina’s coastal markets once again, strong commitments to conservation efforts must be made by government and businesses alike. 

Some of the current efforts include building artificial reefs, spreading cultch (material to which oyster larvae attach) and prohibiting harvesting in deep water oyster sanctuaries in the Pamlico Sound.  Another strategy being implemented is strengthening the oyster mariculture industry to be comparable to wild harvest levels.  This can relieve strain on the wild population and grow the economic value of this industry. 

North Carolina is the only state in the US that has both deep water oyster reefs and low-relief patch reefs in intertidal waters and reefs fringing salt marshes present along our estuarine shorelines.

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