It’s time to pull out the fire grates, steamer pots, and shucking knives because the season for harvesting oysters in North Carolina begins at sunrise on Thursday, Oct. 15.
To keep this season healthy and happy, the state Division of Marine Fisheries offers some a few things consumers and fishermen should keep in mind.
FOR THOSE WHO EAT OYSTERS
Consumers need to take some common sense precautions when buying, storing, and preparing oysters and clams to prevent illnesses caused by two environmental bacteria.
Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are common, naturally occurring bacteria found in coastal waters worldwide and are most abundant when water temperatures are warm. In rare instances, these bacteria can cause serious gastrointestinal illnesses or wound infections.
During the past several years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported an increase in Vibrio infections across the United States. People with compromised immune systems are most at risk, particularly for the more serious illnesses caused by Vibrio vulnificus. However, everyone is susceptible to less severe illness caused by pathogenic strains of Vibrio parahaemolyticus.
Before they indulge, consumers should remember these tips from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality Section:
FOR THOSE WHO SHUCK ‘EM
The Division of Marine Fisheries provides the public with drop-off sites for recycling oyster shells. Recycled shells are put back into the waters, where they serve as habitat for future oysters and a multitude of other small marine organisms that fish eat.
Shell recycling sites can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/public-oyster-shell-recycling-locations.
FOR THOSE WHO HARVEST
Harvest of oysters by hand methods from public bottoms begins at sunrise on Thursday, Oct. 15.
Those who hold proper commercial fishing licenses may harvest oysters from sunrise to sunset Monday through Friday each week. Commercial harvest limits are different for some waters, and fishermen should see Proclamation SF-6-2015 at http://www.ncmarinefisheries.net/proclamations for specific regulations.
Recreational hand harvest is allowed sunrise to sunset seven days a week. The harvest limit is one bushel of oysters per person per day or two bushels per vessel per day if more than one person is on a boat. No license is required for recreational harvest, but the oysters may not be sold.
The minimum size limit is 3 inches shell length.
Some waters are still temporarily closed to shellfish harvesting due to high bacteria levels associated with the recent runoff and flooding. Fishermen should check http://www.ncmarinefisheries.net/proclamations-polluted-areas for shellfish closures. Fishermen should continue to frequently check for closures throughout the year, particularly after heavy rainfalls. They may also call the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries at 252-726-7021 or 1-800-682-2632 to check for closures.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
About Vibrios, see the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ website at http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/diseases/vibrio.html.
About shellfish safety, contact Patti Fowler, the division’s Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality section chief, at 252-808-8147 or [email protected] You may also contact Shannon Jenkins, with the Shellfish Sanitation Section, at 252-808-8148 or [email protected]
About this year’s oyster season, contact Trish Murphey, the division’s Southern District manager, at 252-808-8091 or [email protected] or Tina Moore, also with the division, at 252-808-8082 or [email protected]