Home Precision Agriculture Can Oyster Farming Save the North Carolina Coast?

Can Oyster Farming Save the North Carolina Coast?


Niels Lindquist grows seed oysters on 16 acres of shellfish leases, scattered alongside the North Carolina coast. He eschews floating traps, choosing “bottom leases” to develop oysters on the ocean ground and builds pure reefs in the course of. 

Lindquist is one in every of a rising variety of oyster farmers whose companies have the added good thing about serving to restore the North Carolina shoreline. 

“There is a nexus between food production and trying to improve the environment,” says Lindquist, a co-founder of Sandbar Oyster Firm and a professor of marine science at the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Between 2009 and 2016, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries processed 81 oyster farm lease purposes; the numbers have continued to rise, hitting 98 purposes in 2017, 69 purposes in 2018 (when numbers have been down as a result of Hurricane Florence) and 106 purposes in 2019. Conservation consultants say this uptick in the variety of shellfish farms on the North Carolina coast is sweet information for wild oysters and the surroundings. 

Shellfish aquaculture or the farming of oysters, usually in floating cages, helps shield wild oyster populations which were traditionally overharvested

“The growth of the shellfish aquaculture industry in North Carolina can benefit the economy and the environment if it’s done sustainably,” says Jacob Boyd, part chief, Habitat and Enhancement for the NC Division of Marine Fisheries. 

From 1889 to 1908, annual harvests of untamed oysters topped 500,000 bushels (with about 100 oysters per bushel), in keeping with information from the North Carolina Coastal Federation however a mixture of over-harvesting, habitat loss and illnesses brought on wild oyster populations to plummet to a low of practically 34,500 bushels in 1994.

The numbers have began to rebound, as greater than 119,000 bushels of untamed and farmed oysters have been harvested in 2018. The most recent information exhibits that the harvest of farmed oysters has surpassed the wild harvest for the first time. Beth Darrow, chief scientist at Bald Head Island Conservancy, believes aquaculture has helped. 

“Oyster farming is one of the most sustainable food production systems [and] provides a sustainable alternative to wild oyster harvest,” Darrow says. “It reduces the strain on wild oyster populations and allows them to rebound.”

Oysters additionally supply some large environmental advantages: the reefs act as pure breakwaters, defending in opposition to sea stage rise and storm surge, decreasing erosion and bettering water high quality (a single oyster filters as much as 50 gallons of water per day).

The North Carolina coast is notably susceptible to climate-related modifications, together with storm surges, coastal flooding and erosion. Oyster farms may assist mitigate the harm, says Erin Fleckenstein, a coastal scientist and regional supervisor for North Carolina Coastal Federation.

“When you use oyster reef to protect from erosion in a living shoreline, the reefs…act as speed bumps for the waves and help to disperse the wave energy,” says Fleckenstein.

Photograph courtesy of Scott Burrell.

Boyd notes that whereas oyster farms do present environmental advantages for ecosystems, it’s unclear if they’re as helpful as wild oyster populations for constructing reefs. Extra information is required earlier than a strong conclusion may be drawn, he provides.

“Shellfish farming is more temporary because of the harvest, but farmers always have oysters of different sizes in the water and that creates a benefit,” he provides.

A rising variety of oyster farmers are additionally contributing to restoration initiatives. 

These restoration initiatives have additionally helped maintain oyster farmers throughout the pandemic, as eating places have been closed and shellfish farmers have been off from their largest markets. As demand for recent oysters fell, it elevated issues over the lack of jobs in the aquaculture trade and the potential for oyster costs to break down.

In 2021, a brand new program, Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR), was created to buy 5 million farmed oysters to revive shellfish leases in 20 places throughout the United States. 

SOAR is operated by means of a partnership between the Nature Conservancy, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Division of Agriculture and is aimed toward defending the shellfish aquaculture trade whereas supporting the surroundings.

In North Carolina, the Division of Marine Fisheries launched the Shellfish Lease Restoration Allow (SLRP) in April. The pandemic-inspired initiative acknowledged that farmers wanted an outlet to promote their oysters and allowed farmers to promote oysters, not meant for human consumption, to restoration websites.

Lindquist was one in every of the first oyster farmers to obtain a allow.

“Not all of the oysters a grower has in their crop are table ready; they might not be pretty, they might have grown too big…and that’s a portion of the crop that could be useful for restoration,” he says. “[Selling to a restoration site] helps farmers to diversify their markets and helps us get as many oysters back into estuaries as we can.”

Each farmed oyster that goes into the water—even when it’s not utilized in a restoration website—offers vital ecosystem advantages and Lindquist hopes that as oyster farming will increase on the North Carolina coast, shellfish aquaculture shall be considered as a helpful coastal trade.

“You can view oyster farms as restoration sites,” he says. “[Oyster farming] can generate a tremendous amount of high quality food…and have a lot of environmental benefits as well.”


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