The state closed more than 300,000 acres of water bottom to shellfish harvests today as a way to save tax dollars spent on water quality monitoring with little impact to fishermen.
The closures – the result of funding cuts approved in last year’s state budget – will have an impact on areas of the Albemarle Sound, Currituck Sound, the upper Pungo River and the upper Neuse River. These waters have long been considered non-productive shellfish waters. Environmental conditions, such as salinity levels, are not conducive to growing oysters and clams, and little or no shellfish harvest occurs in these waters.
The closures eliminate 80 sampling sites, resulting in about 480 fewer water quality samples taken per year.
The associated reduction in staff, office and operation expense will save the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries about $148,239 per year. The division closed its Nags Head Shellfish Sanitation office in September and eliminated two technician positions that were based there. A third position was shifted to federal funding.
Division staff will continue to inspect processing plants in northeastern North Carolina. Staff will also continue collecting samples and conducting shoreline surveys in areas that are not closed to shellfishing.
In addition, staff will continue monitoring high-usage recreational water quality sites in April through October. The sites that will be monitored include all ocean beaches from Corolla through Ocracoke, as well as Jockey’s Ridge and Colington Harbor soundside sites.
However, because of cuts in funding, the division will no longer sample 36 other, low-usage sound-side sites in Currituck, Albemarle, Croatan and Roanoke sounds.
A map of recreational water quality sampling sites that will still be tested can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/testing-sites.
Regional maps delineating waters that are newly closed to shellfish harvest can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/01-2015-pa-map-examples.
More detailed maps of open and closed shellfish harvesting areas can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/shellfish-closure-maps.
For a list of the waters that are closing the shellfish harvest and their coordinates, see proclamation PA-PC-2015 at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations-polluted-areas.