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.

Oyster Blueprint 2021-2025

National Significance

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.

We invite you to learn more about the oyster steering committee, strategic oyster blueprint document or the state’s engagement with the national shellfish initiative.

oyster roast © Daniel Pullen
© Daniel Pullen

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.

Featured Projects

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oyster shell recycling
© Jenny Crofton

How You Can Help

Oyster Resources

State of the Oyster Report 2021
This annual State of the Oyster Report, provides a brief overview and highlights the activities and accomplishments of the diverse partners involved in this work for the year 2021.
NC Oyster Blueprint
| Website
The NCOyster.org site is designed to keep all things oysters in one convenient location. Learn more about our oyster steering committee, the oyster blueprint, or the history of oysters in the state. Find ways to get involved with oyster restoration through events and the Oyster Trail!
Oyster Blueprint 2021-2025
This fourth edition of the Blueprint identifies eight strategies and corresponding actions needed to rebuild the state’s oyster resources. The work outlined advances strategies toward a shared vision that fosters collaboration among partners, ensuring oysters in North Carolina perpetuate a healthy and robust environment and economy.
Wanchese Demonstration Oyster Lease
The Coastal Federation’s half-acre demonstration oyster lease (also known as an oyster farm) is located in Broad Creek, near their Wanchese office.
Oyster farmer working on oyster lease
This study identified ways to reduce barriers for those interested in becoming active in mariculture, those currently in the industry, and those interested in business expansion.
State of the Oyster Report 2018
This annual State of the Oyster Report, provides a brief overview and highlights the activities and accomplishments of the diverse partners involved in this work for the year 2018.
Welcome and Background Tom Looney, N.C. Economic Development Partnership Rural Economic Development Mary Penny Kelly, Office of the Governor Recipe
Cover of the Strategic plan for Shellfish Mariculture
| Guidebooks
The Shellfish Mariculture Plan includes an evaluation of best practices in other states and nations, analysis of siting strategies for shellfish mariculture operations and recommendations for improvements to legal protections for mariculture operations, cultch planting and strategies for control of shellfish pests
The Napa Valley of Oysters: Launching a North Carolina Shellfish Initiative
With millions of acres of coastal waters, North Carolina recognizes the importance of shellfish to its economy, cultural heritage and environmental health. The state is on its way to becoming the Napa Valley of Oysters.

Contact Erin Fleckenstein, erinf@nccoast.org, with any questions about the Oyster Steering Committee or to get involved in this coastwide effort.

living shoreline © Daniel Pullen

The Restoration Continues

You can support even more oyster restoration by Adopting an Oyster.