September 30, 2018

Shellfish Harvesting from Outer Banks Waters Resumed Saturday


With 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 happens.

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.

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