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New permit facilitates transfer of shellfish for restoration projects

A new Division of Marine Fisheries permit makes it possible for shellfish lease holders to sell oysters and other shellfish to government agencies, environmental organizations and others for use on manmade oyster reefs, living shorelines and other restoration endeavors.

The Shellfish Lease Restoration Permit, established in April, allows shellfish growers to transport oysters and other shellfish not meant for human consumption to these types of restoration sites. Prior to this permit, this activity was prohibited.

“North Carolina is committed to promoting the use of living shorelines and shellfish restoration efforts,” said Jacob Boyd, Habitat and Enhancement Section Chief with the Division of Marine Fisheries. “This permit creates a new market where shellfish growers can sell their product while making more valuable material available for restoration sites.”

Historically, laws authorizing shellfish leases were written to govern the commercial production of seafood for human consumption. These laws did not provide for use of aquaculture-grown shellfish for other purposes such as restoration. Additionally, state and federal shellfish sanitation requirements meant to protect public health made it challenging to use aquaculture-raised shellfish for restoration purposes.

“There are many important state and federal requirements restricting the amount of time shellfish can be out of the water before they are refrigerated,” Boyd said. “These regulations are necessary for shellfish meant to be eaten, but not for use on a restoration site.”

The new permit makes it legal to transport shellfish from shellfish leases to restoration sites and exempts this activity from the shellfish sanitation rules, but the permit conditions were developed in a way to minimize the potential risk to public health from these shellfish not meant for human consumption.

Shellfish growers must still abide by all shellfish sanitation rules and other requirements when the shellfish is on the lease. Additionally, shellfish transported under this permit may only go to restoration sites in waters closed to shellfish harvest (either to waters classified as closed or to open waters during the closed season).

Division of Marine Fisheries staff began working on the permit last spring when COVID-19 started to impact shellfish sales to seafood markets, restaurants and other venues. Staff began looking for new avenues for shellfish growers to recoup some of the losses they were facing.

“We worked with the stakeholders to create a product that is efficient and doesn’t create a huge burden for shellfish growers while maintaining important public health protections,” Boyd said.

The permit is free and an application is available online.

For more information, contact Jacob.Boyd@ncdenr.gov.

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