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.
You can support the federation’s efforts to restore oyster reefs up and down the coast!
Eastern oysters provide these benefits free of charge.
Food – Oysters support a viable commercial and recreational fishery that is an important part of North Carolina’s cultural heritage and economy. Oyster reefs support the production of more crabs and finfish valued at over $62 million annually.
Filter – As filter feeders, oysters remove harmful pollutants, sediment and excess algae from the water. An adult is capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water a day. As oysters filter, they also provide an important link in the estuarine food web by transferring nutrients from the surface (plankton) to the bottom (benthos).
Fish Habitat – Oyster reefs provide essential habitat for a diverse collection of aquatic animals, including many important commercial and recreational fish species. One healthy oyster reef can be home to more than 300 different adult and juvenile organisms including southern flounder, shrimp, clams and blue crabs.
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
- Increased 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.
HOW we’re building N.C. Oyster resources:
Key Actions for 2021
1. Lead the Oyster Steering Committee and engage workgroups to implement the Oyster Blueprint.
2. Incorporate Blueprint recommendations and actions into the Oyster Fishery Management Plan and the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, and link this shellfish initiative to state and federal oyster initiatives.
3. Construct at least five acres of new oyster habitat.
4. Grow shellfish farming to a $100 million statewide industry by 2030 with a goal of $6.2-7 Million in 2021.
5. Facilitate a stakeholder group to conduct a cultch-planting study for N.C. by working with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
6. Collect at least 3,000 bushels of recycled oyster shells, and expand the recycling program coastwide.
7. Grow the Restaurant to Reef oyster shell recycling program.
How You Can Help
- Join the federation and support oyster restoration efforts.
- Recycle your oyster shells and ask your favorite restaurants do so, too.
- Adopt an Oyster to provide support for new reef-building activities.
- Encourage your local government to take actions 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.