Both coastal conservationists and shellfish growers agree that the new state budget makes important new investments in the state’s oyster industry.
North Carolina Coastal Federation staff members learned Monday night that the budget included all of the requested funding for oyster restoration and crab pot cleanup — two of the federation’s major projects for keeping coastal waters clean and creating economic opportunity through environmental restoration.
“The General Assembly’s new budget takes big steps toward making coastal North Carolina the Napa Valley of oysters,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the federation. “This funding will help implement the State’s blueprint for restoring the oyster industry and help attract more federal money to restore our oyster beds.”
The final budget released Monday includes:
- $1.03 million to build oyster sanctuaries in Pamlico Sound
- $300,000 to build new rotational harvest oyster reefs throughout the coast
- $149,000 for two new positions at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to accelerate shellfish industry growth and increase shellfish production and recycling activities
- $100,000 to clean up lost crab pots in North Carolina waters
Lawmakers are expected to approve a new state budget this week. Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to sign it.
The federation prioritizes connecting environmental restoration to economic development, and the money from the state will fund projects that have long-term benefits for the environment and the economy.
“In a few years, the success of these restoration efforts will be a huge economic gain for fishermen and tourism businesses along our coast,” said Jay Styron, president of the N.C. Shellfish Growers Association. “Oysters are one of the best economic development strategies we have for our coast, and it’s nice to see this investment by our lawmakers to help us carry it out in a timely way.”
Erin Fleckenstein, a coastal scientist with the federation who is heading up its oyster restoration campaign, said even the implementation of the restoration activities will be a significant economic stimulus for many coastal communities.
“State funding will allow North Carolina to engage fishermen and private marine contractors to partner with us to restore oysters,” she said.
Miller said the work of state senators Bill Cook, Harry Brown, Brent Jackson and Norman Sanderson, as well as representatives Pat McElraft, Paul Tine, Chris Millis and Chuck McGrady, was especially helpful in securing funding for the oyster industry.
The federation and partners in 2015 developed the third edition of The Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for North Carolina: A Blueprint for Action 2015-2020. The blueprint is a comprehensive information guide about strategies to manage and restore oysters in order to benefit the North Carolina economy and environment.
In 2015, an estimated 119,000 bushels of oysters were harvested in North Carolina, which is far below historic harvest amounts. Oysters help keep coastal waters clean for fishing and swimming, and oyster reefs support habitat for crabs and finfish, which bring in more than $62 million annually to the North Carolina economy. A healthy adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, removing harmful sediment and pollutants.
Oyster restoration also brings economic benefits. According to a study by Research Triangle Institute, International, an $8 million investment in restoration creates 116 jobs and an estimated $13.8 million in coastal revenue.
The federation works to create oyster reefs throughout the coast, educates the public about the importance of oysters and also took the lead in developing the State of the Oyster: 2015 Progress Report. This report outlines what was accomplished in 2015 and the work that needs to be done to meet the goals listed in the blueprint.