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

Shellfish Mariculture Best Management Practices
The Federation partnered with industry experts from NOAA, North Carolina Sea Grant, and commercial shellfish operations to develop best management practices (BMPs) for the prevention of marine debris from the shellfish mariculture industry. These BMPs provide a guide for new growers and lease applicants to follow to make their best effort in keeping gear on the farm during normal operations as well as in preparation for a storm.
Swan Island
The Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary is one project aimed at protecting and restoring oyster population in North Carolina.
Sound Economic Development Summit: Creating a Rising Tide for the North Carolina Coast
A two-day summit held in Raleigh in March 2017 brought together appointed and elected officials, business leaders, scientists, academics, economic developers, tourism leaders and shellfish growers from North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland to discuss and plan for North Carolina’s opportunities for economic development through oyster aquaculture and coastal environmental restoration.
To better document how habitat enhancement projects in North Carolina improve the coastal economy and environment, the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership contracted with RTI International to assess the benefits and costs of the three oyster programs under the NCDMF habitat enhancement programs.
Strategic Plan for Creating a Robust Coastal Economy with Coastal Restoration
The Coastal Federation is working with federal, state, and local leaders, economic developers, private businesses, and coastal residents to create and implement an economic development strategy for the coast that also protects and restores coastal resources. Investment in coastal restoration creates short-term and long-term jobs, boosts fisheries, and ensures a clean environment that benefits the tourism industry. This draft comprehensive strategic blueprint explains how programs and projects that protect coastal resources also strengthen economic growth along the coast.
Oyster Summit 2015
More than 150 state legislators, commercial fishermen, mariculturists, government, academic, private and non-profit professionals met in Raleigh to explore the economic and environmental returns on investing in North Carolina’s oyster restoration, enhancement and production.
Coastal Restoration and Community Economic Development in North Carolina (2015 Study)
To better document how coastal restoration in North Carolina also affects community and economic development, the North Carolina Coastal Federation contracted with RTI International to assess the link between coastal restoration and economic development, perform an economic impact analysis of related projects, review how other states benefit from coastal restoration, and identify how coastal restoration fits within the state’s larger economic development strategies.

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.