North Carolina‘s 2016 State of the Oyster Progress Report has now been released. It tracks progress made in carrying out the Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan: A Blueprint for Action 2015-2020.
This progress builds on the accomplishments of many stakeholders since the 1995 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Oysters, the 1997 Fisheries Reform Act, and the first edition of the Blueprint, originally drafted in 2003 and now in its third edition.
The Blueprint aims to achieve the following goals by 2020:
- Link restoration of oysters and water quality with an economic development strategy for North Carolina;
- Establish at least 500 acres of new oyster sanctuaries;
- Plant cultch to provide for ample sustainable wild oyster harvest;
- Build the oyster mariculture industry to meet or exceed wild harvest;
- Sustainably manage oyster harvest on public bottom;
- Protect and improve water quality in priority shellfish growing areas; and
- Document oyster population status and trends resulting from the successful implementation of the Blueprint.
Oysters are vital to North Carolina’s coastal economic and ecological future. Numerous factors such as pollution-related disease, habitat loss, over-harvesting and poor water quality have caused a severe decline in their numbers since peak harvest over a century ago.
Despite some recovery in recent years, the current amount of oysters harvested within the state represents only 15-20 percent of historic harvest levels. Oyster harvest is currently considered the best measure of the oyster population.