Autumn is finally here and to many North Carolinians that means oyster season. Whether they go out to a favorite spot and gather a few for dinner or collect a few more for an oyster roast with friends, shellfish fishermen need to know the state’s regulations for harvesting oysters. Violations of these rules may lead to a citation and loss of product, as well as possible health risks following consumption.
Those who harvest oysters for recreational purposes do not need a license from the Division of Marine Fisheries. Recreational harvest means the oysters harvested are for personal use and may not be sold to another individual or business.
Oysters must be at least 3 inches in length and the creel limit is 1 bushel per person per day, not to exceed 2 bushels per vessel (regardless of how many people are on the boat).
Recreational harvest is allowed from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week from waters classified as Approved or Conditionally Approved Open by the division. No harvest of any kind is allowed in polluted areas which are classified as Prohibited.
For more information on area classifications (including an interactive map showing temporary closures) visit the Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality website.
Fishermen should cull oysters at the site and time of harvest to remove dead shell, cultch material and undersized individuals, and put them back in the water. The culling tolerance should not exceed 5 percent of the total harvested volume.
Those interested in participating in a commercial oyster harvest operation should be aware that regulations may be different and, in some cases, more stringent since those products may be distributed throughout the state and beyond to the consuming public.
Shellfish are filter feeding animals that can concentrate bacteria and other contaminants that can be passed on when consumed raw or undercooked. Proper harvest and post-harvest handling can reduce the risk of illness.
Commercial harvest requires a license from the division and the commercial harvest limits vary depending on the type of license and the area of harvest. Regulations require that commercially harvested oysters be labeled with appropriate tags and placed into refrigeration within a certain amount of time from the start of harvest. Refrigeration helps reduce the potential for illness by preventing post-harvest growth of bacteria that may be present in the oysters.
For more information on commercial harvest regulations, see Proclamation SF-4-2019 and Proclamation SS-1-2019.
Recreational and commercial harvest cannot be possessed aboard the same vessel.