From: Patricia Smith, The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
Published March 1, 2005 12:00 AM

North Carolina Oyster-Growing Project to be Permitted

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. — People who signed up a year ago for a pilot study to grow oysters in cages under their docks have yet to get the go-ahead from state fisheries officials.


And the president of the group that initiated the proposal said it may best to forego the pilot project altogether in favor of a statewide permit that will likely go into place this fall.


"That would be fine with us, if it happens," said John Allison, president of North Carolina Shellfish Gardeners, a group of hobby shellfish growers.


Shellfish Gardeners first asked the Marine Fisheries Commission for permission to grow oysters in off-bottom cages attached to private docks in March 2003. The group presented the proposal as a way for individuals to grow their own oysters for personal consumption and, at the same time, help the environment because the oysters would filter water pollutants and spawn to add to the wild population.


The commission approved a pilot study for up to 50 participants in August of that year. Selection of participants was to be made proportionately to each coastal region based on the density of piers.


Fisheries officials had originally expected to begin the pilot study in the spring of 2004, and young oysters were spawned at Carteret Community College in anticipation of the project.


But the project was delayed because of a lack of applicants from the southern-most coastal areas of the state. And by the time the participation problem was solved, the oyster seed had outgrown the project.


Craig Hardy, chief of the Resource Enhancement Section of the Division of Marine Fisheries, said that because it was so late in the year, none of the seed the gardeners could have gotten from out-of-state would pass importation requirements.


In the meantime, the General Assembly passed a law last summer that directed the division to establish a statewide permit without the 50-dock limit or regional participation caps. The MFC decided to continue with the pilot study during the 18-month-long rule-making process, allowing those who had already signed up to begin growing oysters earlier than others. Those rules are scheduled to go to public hearing late this spring and become effective this fall.


Hardy said he would still like to renew interest in the pilot project this spring if oyster seed can be found. "There's still value in continuing the pilot project through the first growing season," Hardy said. "It all depends on whether people still want to participate."


The only benefit to participation would be the possibility of getting oysters in the water a little quicker than those who wait for the statewide permit, Hardy said.


"It may give them a four-month jumpstart," Hardy said. On the other hand, since oysters normally spawn in late spring and must be raised to a certain size before transplanting, Hardy admitted that timeframe may be shorter.


Allison said it would likely be so late that it would not be worth it to participate in the pilot project.


"We probably should be looking to the future and how to get clean water, and the easiest ways is the new permit," Allison said.


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