August 1, 2008


State funds to boost oyster restoration efforts

By SUSAN WEST



Oyster restoration efforts got a boost in the state budget passed by legislators this summer.

The budget includes $2 million for expansion of the oyster sanctuary program at the state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF).

It also authorizes construction of a $4.3 million DMF research hatchery at the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

“Oysters have almost disappeared off our coast and we’re working hard to bring them back,” Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight said.  “Not only will it benefit our economy, but oysters benefit the environment and help clean our waters.”

Oysters are capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water a day, removing nutrients, plankton, and silt.

The $2 million appropriation will fund six staff positions and equipment and material to support the oyster sanctuary program.

“This is very good news.  We will be able to build more and build larger sanctuaries,” Louis Daniel, DMF director, said.

Mounds of limestone marl and old oyster shells are used to create new oyster reefs where larvae have a place to attach and grow.

Research shows that growing oysters high in the water column, off the bottom, protects oysters from smothering silt, and results in healthier, faster-growing oysters.

“Of course, the marl is expensive,” said Daniel.

The sanctuary program also includes a statewide oyster shell recycling program.

Daniel said the success of the recycling program depends on 70 volunteers who set up collections bins and transport recycled shells to DMF sites.

“We hope we can make it easier for the volunteers and for the businesses and the people who recycle,” he said.

The hatchery at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington will work on developing the strongest brood stock for specific water bodies.

“We need research into questions like whether the same strain of oyster that does well off Engelhard can do as well in other areas, or whether differences in things like salinity and dissolved oxygen levels make a difference,” Daniels said.

“We want to identify the most disease resistance, fastest-growing strain for specific sites,” he continued.  

The impact of diseases, such as Dermo, and parasites, such as MSX, on oyster populations varies under different environmental conditions.

The hatchery will not be an oyster seed production facility.

“But with this research and funding commitment from the state, there might be more interest in production hatcheries in the private sector,” Daniel said.






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