With cooler nights and daytime temps, it is finally beginning to feel like fall. For many in eastern North Carolina, including myself, that means oyster roasts. While quality oysters are available year-round from our many mariculture oyster leases, wild hand-harvest started Oct. 15, and this season traditionally caters more to the bushel oyster market. The Division of Marine Fisheries has a lot of programs that focus on oysters. Oysters are not only tasty but provide valuable habitat and so many sections are involved in their management in North Carolina.
Marine Patrol provides on the water patrols and inspects harvesters, dealers, transport and processors to ensure product is harvested and sold in accordance with Marine Fisheries Commission and national standards. The Habitat and Enhancement Section builds oyster reefs, both for harvest and as sanctuaries, and administers the Shellfish Lease Program which has grown exponentially over the past several years. The Fisheries Management Section develops fishery management plans to manage wild harvest.
Oysters also are filter feeders, and as such they do a tremendous job cleaning surrounding waters filtering 25 gallons or more each day. But they can also concentrate bacteria, viruses, or toxins in that water and improperly handled, harvested, stored, or prepared can pose public health risks. It is the division’s Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality Section that focuses on these public health aspects. In this issue of INSIGHT we will explore several of these division programs as they relate to oyster production, harvest and preparation.
We will also focus on a small group of dedicated staff who are in the Shoreline Survey Program of the Shellfish Sanitation Section. These staff fulfill federal requirements to provide comprehensive assessments of actual and potential pollution sources to all our shellfish growing waters. They have a tremendously important and difficult job and few outside the division know about their efforts.
I hope the next time you sit down to eat oysters, whether at an oyster roast, or at a local restaurant, you will remember the work done here at the division to ensure you have access to safe and locally harvested oysters. And remember, if you have a compromised immune system you should avoid eating any raw or undercooked protein foods, including oysters. They are delicious cooked as well.
Stay safe out on the water.