are building oyster reefs in Pamlico Sound
Several local commercial fishermen began distributing 3,000 bushels of
oyster shells in Pamlico Sound behind Ocracoke on Tuesday, Aug. 3, to
build habitat and supplement their income.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries will pay the fishermen $2 a
bushel to distribute the shells as part of the N.C. Coastal
Federation’s $5 million federal economic recovery grant. The grant also
included building two large oyster reefs covering 48 acres in Pamlico
Sound. That work was completed in May. The project has so far created
about 135 jobs.
During the summer, oyster shells and rock, called cultch, can be put
into the water, to provide habitat for oyster larvae. For the first two
weeks of their lives, oysters are carried about by currents. Then,
oysters sink to the bottom and attach to clean, hard surfaces in order
to survive. That’s why oysters are found growing attached to one
another in reefs, on bridge pilings, or on other hard underwater
The cultch isn’t beneficial only to oysters. It also provides habitat
and protection for juvenile fish, crabs, small marine organisms, and
many important commercial and recreational species. As the oyster reefs
develop, larger fish tend to congregate around them, feeding on the
smaller fish and marine life. The reefs are important nurseries and
feeding grounds that help support North Carolina’s billion dollar
commercial and recreational fishing industries.
The fisheries division typically uses large barges to transport the
cultch to planting sites. With this project, the fisherman, using
smaller boats, can distribute the shells in water too shallow for the
Through an application process, the division selected 72 fishermen
statewide to participate in the cultch-planting project.
They will distribute 41,000 bushels of oyster shells between May and
August in different coastal waters of the state. The sites in Hyde,
Carteret, Onslow and New Hanover counties combine for more than 10
acres of created oyster habitat.
To date 30,000 bushels of shell have been deployed. The sites will be
closed to harvest for four years in order for the oysters to grow and
provide habitat, but hook-and-line fishing will be allowed.
The division will monitor the oyster restoration sites in Pamlico Sound
to evaluate the development of the reefs. Then the sites will be opened
to harvest and future plantings, providing additional income for
The N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching and the National Park
Service are supporting the project by stockpiling the shells at their
Ocracoke facilities, and James Barrie Gaskill, an Ocracoke commercial
fisherman and federation board member, is providing a loading area for