Our Goal: Ensure an Abundance of Oysters that Support the Environment and Economy
Our native eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is one of the most important species in our estuaries. Oysters benefit North Carolina’s coastal ecology and economy. These benefits can be summarized and referred to as the three “Fs”, for short: food, filter, and fish habitat. They filter water, provide food for humans and create reefs that build homes for more fish. These environmental benefits, in turn, support jobs and provide economic opportunities for coastal communities.
Oysters in Trouble
Oyster populations, worldwide, are at record lows. Despite some recovery in recent years, in North Carolina, it is estimated that oysters are at about 15-20% of historic harvest levels. Oyster harvest is currently the best measure of the oyster population in our state.
Oysters are at historic lows because of poor water quality, disease and predation, habitat loss, natural disasters, low recruitment and ncreased harvest pressure
Bringing Oysters Back
We’re taking action to build back North Carolina’s oyster resources. Learn more about how we’re working and how you can engage with us to ensure North Carolina boasts thriving oysters that support the coastal environment and economy.
Eastern oysters provide these benefits free of charge.
Oyster Life Cycle Informs Restoration Strategies
Building new oyster reefs is one of the key strategies used to revive North Carolina’s oyster population.
Native or wild oysters produce free floating oyster larvae. These baby oysters require a hard surface to attach to and grow upon within two weeks or they will not survive. Because of this, many restoration efforts concentrate on providing a suitable hard surface for the larvae. The oyster life cycle provides a glimpse into how oysters grow and informs how restoration efforts can be successful. Restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s but more work is still needed.
Partner and Collaborate
Partnerships are Key
When it comes to oysters, the Federation has led a volunteer-based, coastwide Oyster Steering Committee since 2003. This committee brings together diverse stakeholders to develop a set of common goals and actions to be realized in building back our state’s oyster resources.
These priority goals and actions are the basis of the strategic North Carolina Oyster Blueprint, currently in its fourth edition. Committee members help to prioritize and implement the agreed upon actions. By working together, projects are based in science, strategically implemented, and strive to engage a diverse group of partners.
Several of the priority actions in the Oyster Blueprint are recognized for complementing and supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Shellfish Initiative. To that end, in 2018, the state of North Carolina joined this national initiate as the 6th state in the country, and first in the southeast. The Shellfish Initiative recognizes the importance of partnering with shellfish farmers and shellfish restoration organizations with the goal to increase populations of bivalve shellfish in our nation’s coastal waters—including oysters, clams, and mussels—through both sustainable commercial production and restoration activities.
Oysters in 2022
In 2022, we led the Oyster Steering Committee and engage workgroups to implement actions in the Oyster Blueprint. This work is being assisted with over $2 million dollars in appropriations to N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, as well as federal, state, and private grants. This will allow us to construct at least ten acres of new oyster habitat; grow shellfish farming to a $100 million statewide industry by 2030 with a goal of $7-8.6 million in farmed oyster sales in 2022. We will collect at least 5,000 bushels of recycled oyster shells, expand the recycling program coastwide, and advance key oyster communication and education efforts that include the N.C. Oyster Trail, shell recycling, and an interactive oyster display at the Roanoke Island Aquarium.
How You Can Help
- Join the Federation and support oyster restoration efforts.
- Recycle your oyster shells and ask your favorite restaurants to do so, too.
- Adopt an Oyster to provide support for new reef-building activities.
- Encourage your local government to take action to prevent stormwater runoff, the biggest polluter of coastal waters.
- Volunteer on a community-based restoration project.
- Become a shell recycling volunteer on the Outer Banks through our Restaurant to Reef program.
Contact Erin Fleckenstein, firstname.lastname@example.org, with any questions about the Oyster Steering Committee or to get involved in this coastwide effort.
The Restoration Continues
You can support even more oyster restoration by Adopting an Oyster.