When it came to shaping coastal policy, the 2015 legislative session could go down as the year of the oyster.
a bid to jumpstart low, relatively static production levels,
legislators added more than a half-dozen provisions, including a look
at new leasing practices, the potential end to a moratorium on
shellfish leases in Core Sound, and a long-term plan for creating a
major new sanctuary program for Pamlico Sound.
Murphy, section chief for habitat enhancement at the N.C. Division of
Marine Fisheries, said the division is working to meet fast-approaching
deadlines on at least eight separate studies on oyster and shellfish
polices mandated for early next year.
said DMF teams are developing rough drafts ahead of a round of
stakeholder meetings planned for mid-December. Most of the studies are
due to be reviewed well ahead of next year’s short session, which
starts more than a month earlier than usual due to the accelerated
“We really don’t have a lot of wiggle room,” Murphy said.
largest chunk of work by far is a first-of-its-kind study to develop a
major new oyster sanctuary and leasing plan for Pamlico Sound. The
provision, part of the 2015 budget bill, is a rewrite of legislation
passed in 2000 creating the Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary. Preston, who
died in 2013, was a legislator from Carteret County who served in both
the N.C. House and Senate.
it was first passed, the sanctuary plan called for a 10,000-acre area
in the middle of the sound. The modified version passed in this year’s
budget is less proscriptive in terms of total size and location, but
still envisions a major effort to increase oyster beds over a 10-year
Murphy said that’s a significant change in strategy.
“The exciting thing about it for us is that it’s a long-term plan instead of these biennial snapshots,” he said.
new plan, he said, could lead to a significant increase in oyster
restoration programs. The state, he said, has struggled to rebuild its
oyster beds since an era of massive harvesting that took place in the
late 1800s through the early 20th century.
said restoring beds means a lot more work and material than just
replacing the oysters taken. Within an oyster sanctuary, material such
as natural oyster and clam shells, rock and recycled crushed concrete,
is placed in mounds or piles to provide a suitable habitat.
Within an oyster sanctuary, material such as natural oyster and clam
shells, rock and recycled crushed concrete, is placed in mounds or
piles to provide a suitable habitat.
“You have to replace more material so that oysters will grow,” he said.
review of Virginia’s recent restoration and enhancement push shows
promising results, he said, but it required a much bigger investment.
"The scale of what’s being done here to what’s being done there differs
by a factor of 10,” Murphy said.
though North Carolina’s restoration efforts have increased, he said,
they still don’t provide enough material to keep up with what’s removed.
been at a level for the last 10-15 years where it’s not big enough to
make any kind of large difference in the fishery,” he said. “This would
take us in the opposite direction, so we’re not just trying to keep up,
but adding more material out there than we’re removing.”
than set a target number, the sanctuary study calls for an assessment
of what the division could accomplish on its current budget and if it
had additional funds and the opportunity to partner with outside
Fleckenstein, a N.C. Coastal Federation scientist who has been working
with Murphy on the sanctuary study, said the legislature has definitely
sent a signal to the division and oyster advocates that they want to
see a major push.
a network of sanctuaries that might total as much as 10,000 acres would
be a big jump from the 150 acres of existing sanctuaries, she said.
shows a lot of initiative and a lot of support from the legislature to
do long-range planning of oyster sanctuary and restoration in the
state,” she said. The original plan for a 10,000-acre checkerboard of
sanctuary and leasing areas would have been difficult to manage and
might not have been ideally located, Fleckenstein said. The new plan
would allow for sanctuary and leasing areas in multiple zones in the
said that with a much more usable concept in place, planners can take
fuller advantage of groundwork done over the years by researchers and
the federation, which has been studying the area for more than a decade
and mapping potential areas.
“They’ve given the division a mandate to think big,” she said. “When you think big, you can really get creative.”
There are currently about 150 acres of oyster sanctuaries in North Carolina.
Core Sound Controversy
other major study could result in the lifting of a long-time ban on
shellfish bed leasing in Core Sound, the state’s most pristine coastal
ban, in place since the 1990s, was the result of opposition from
commercial fishing groups worried about loss of habitat and access in
said planners are working with shellfish growers and Carteret County
fishing operations “at the grassroots level” to identify areas of
concern in the sound. The plan, he said, is to find some areas of
consensus ahead of what could be contentious public meetings on the
know there’s going to be a lot of support for and against the plan,” he
said. “The leasing would take place in public trust waters and it does
take part of the public trust bottom and put it in private hands,” he
said. “That can be pretty controversial.”
said he understands the arguments on both sides and the division’s job
will be to strike a balance between its mission to support fisheries
and “doing what’s right” under the public trust doctrine.
legislative efforts are aimed at helping to streamline requirements on
both oyster restoration and shellfish harvesting, Fleckenstein said.
study in the works could ease the way for restoration efforts by
reducing the need for a full Coastal Area Management Act, or CAMA,
review. Right now, Fleckenstein said, restoration projects are treated
as new construction and require a major review. Setting up a set of
accepted practices and procedures that would not require a major review
could eliminate that step, she said.
“This (study) would at least start the dialog toward changing that,” she said.
study looks at the use of GPS for mapping out shellfish beds rather
than requiring the work of a surveyor, which could cut the time and
cost of setting up leasing areas.
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)