September 30, 2018
Shellfish Harvesting from Outer Banks Waters Resumed Saturday
By SAM WALKER
THE OUTER BANKS VOICE
the massive amounts of floodwater flowing through the sounds and
coastal rivers of North Carolina from Hurricane Florence, the
harvesting of oysters and clams has ground to a halt.
Testing of the waters from Ocracoke to Wanchese has come back safe, so
shellfish producers in Dare and Hyde counties are able to harvest their
mollusks and send them to market again.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries issued a proclamation on Sept. 13
banning the harvest of oysters, clams or mussels from state waters by
commercial and recreational interests.
High season for North Carolina shellfish is traditionally considered
the months with “R” in them, so the closure hit just as things start to
really get busy.
“We have about 20 different varieties we sell, and around half of them
are from North Carolina suppliers,” said Daniel Lewis, owner of Coastal
Provisions in Southern Shores, which carries the largest selection of
N.C. oysters of any Outer Banks restaurant.
His staff was at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh last Tuesday
scooping up the last of the Down East oysters that were harvested right
before the storm.
For some producers, especially those at the mouth of rivers that are
still experiencing record-breaking flooding, the entire fall and early
winter could be lost.
“They are filter feeders, so they take into their bodies whatever is in the water,” said NCDMF spokesperson Patricia Smith.
That means the “black water” from all the septic tanks, sewer systems,
hog lagoons, factories, vehicles and whatever else has been flooded by
Florence eventually ends up in coastal waters and is consumed by
oysters and clams that are just doing what they do naturally.
Eventually as the water clears, so will the shellfish, as they filter
the toxins out with clean water. But it could be months before that
For shrimp, crabs and finfish, the situation is less tenuous. For the
most part just move out of the way to cleaner water. No closures are
anticipated for those fisheries.
With the majority of the runoff below the middle and upper Pamlico
Sound basin, shellfish producers along Ocracoke, Hatteras, Bodie and
lower Roanoke islands and the adjacent mainland may have lucked out.
The harvest and consumption of oysters and clams from above the
northern tip of Roanoke Island, and many of the ditches, canals,
creeks, and bays along Dare and Hyde counties is permanently prohibited.
» Click here to see the NCDMF interactive map of shellfish closures
Smith said the air conditioning at the NCDMF main offices and labs in
Morehead City failed right after the storm, and that prevented testing
to take place until it was repaired.
And it will be early next year before the long-shuttered water quality testing lab in Nags Head can reopen, Smith noted.
Smith said inspectors sampled Dare and Hyde waters on Wednesday, and
the proclamation issued Friday reopened portions of the Pamlico Sound
that were not under temporary restrictions before the storm.
Now that the harvest has resumed, Lewis said, he will be stocking up
again with fresh Outer Banks Catch oysters just a soon as they can get
them out of the water.