(Pictured Left): Restoring North Carolina’s historic oyster populations may require raising billions of oysters in state-constructed shellfish hatcheries. To get a running start before the first such hatcheries are built, the North Carolina Aquariums have turned to James Morris Sr., of Millpoint Aquaculture.
Morris has already begun producing the first millions of baby oysters for the state’s hatchery-based restoration efforts. Working over the summer at his commercial facility, Morris raised more than 38 million native oysters for the Aquariums’ Oyster Hatchery Program (OHP). The hatchery-raised oysters were then “set” onto recycled oyster shells in onshore tanks by the OHP partners -- N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, North Carolina Coastal Federation and J&B Aquafoods. After several weeks in the tanks, the young oysters will be placed onto restoration sites in Pamlico Sound and New River.
“We are ecstatic with the amount and quality of the larvae we’ve received from Jimmy,” said Mike Remige, OHP coordinator. “This proves that we can use hatchery-raised oysters for restoration. But just as important, we are excited to be engaging private industry in our cooperative efforts.”
In just two years, the program and its partners realized a five-fold increase in the number of live oysters deployed in North Carolina waters. But even 38 million hatchery-raised oysters are less than 1 percent of the program’s production goal of 5 billion.
“So far we’ve been able to involve state agencies, the university system, non-profit organizations, stakeholders and a commercial enterprise in planning and implementing hatchery-based restoration,” said Remige. “The next logical step is to increase the number of hatchery-raised oysters and monitor their growth and survival in the wild.” The Aquariums and their OHP partners have recommended construction of three state-supported facilities to address production, research and education needs. Production facilities will be located at Morris Landing, in Onslow County, and on the grounds of the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. A smaller research facility is proposed at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Marine Science, in collaboration with the UNCW Marine Biotechnology Program.
The OHP was established by legislative initiative in 2005 in response to declining oyster harvests, and it is spearheaded by the North Carolina Aquariums. The native Eastern oyster is a valuable natural resource that filters our waters and provides food and vital fish habitat. For more information, see www.ncoysters.net.
North Carolina’s three public aquariums are located at Fort Fisher, at Pine Knoll Shores, and on Roanoke Island. The Division of Aquariums is administered by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The Aquariums work together to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments. For more information, see www.ncaquariums.com.
The N.C. Aquariums are accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA and its 200 members are working together to build North America’s largest wildlife conservation movement, by engaging and inspiring 143 million visitors and their communities to care about and take action to help protect wildlife.
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