The disastrous feedback of what happens when fisheries funding dries up

Last week I had the good fortune of attending the NC Oyster Summit, hosted  by the NC Coastal Federation in the Museum of Natural Sciences. We talked about the wonders that oyster restoration and aquaculture development can do for water quality, economic development, and taste buds. We enjoyed the demonstration of ‘merriore’, or the taste of the sea that lends a particular flavor to each oyster that captures the ecosystem it grew in. Yet, the fact that stuck with me most is that despite all of these wonderful celebrations of the oyster for the health and well-being of NC’s coastal communities, funding cuts of around 40% to the Department of Marine Fisheries mean that a large portion of the Albemarle Sound remains closed to harvest or aquaculture because there are no staff to check those oysters for public health risks.

The “Administrative Closure” of the most northern stretches of the state’s prized Albemarle-Pamlico estuary system is a worrying precedent in many ways that highlight how leadership withdrawal of support for science can trickle down to real economic, environmental, and cultural harm.

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Aquaculture in NC: Millpoint Aquaculture

Jimmy Morris is the only hatchery in North Carolina, serving aquaculture operations all along the East Coast and the state’s oyster restoration program. The process would he easy, he says, except that crops of larvae die periodically – for a variety of unknown reasons. Figuring out how to cater to the sensitivities of these shelly babies is a skill few-and-far between in the world of aquaculture and that makes his operation one of the most important businesses in both the region and the industry.

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Aquaculture in NC: Carolina Mariculture Co.

Jay onto his boat, photo by author

Though oyster mariculture isn’t new to places like the Chesapeake Bay, Jay Styron’s Carolina Mariculture Company, based in Cedar Island, NC, is a shining vision of the future in North Carolina. Much of the state’s efforts in aquaculture are directed at tilapia, catfish, and hybrid striped bass, which are grown in ponds on traditional farm land. These are often grown as a means of diversifying an existing farm economy. Mariculture, though, blends this type of aquaculture with commercial fishing to grow seafood in estuaries and inshore regions, creating a saltier crop. In many ways mariculture should be embraced by both farming and fishing communities but is often instead viewed as the strange uncle of the food production family. Enter pioneer Jay Styron, who grows oysters not only for food but also demonstration purposes – and he proudly creates delicious oysters.

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Aquaculture in NC: Providing for the rich or the masses?

What do you think of when you picture  a fish dinner? A fancy anniversary meal atop a seaside bluff at sunset? Or a staple food, eaten daily as part of the subsistence diet of coastal community members? Seafood is a strange commodity because depending on how you answered that question, you’re right. Seafood occupies multiple rungs of the economic ladder. But the most common consumer is the middle-class, which is shrinking in the US but growing worldwide. So what does a changing seafood consumer base mean for which types of seafood we should increase through aquaculture? Here’s a few thoughts from the keynote speaker at the NC Aquaculture Development Conference, Travis Larkin from Seafood Exchange. Continue reading

Aquaculture in NC: Urban Aquaculture

Not everyone who wants to start an aquaculture farm has the privilege of picking up their family, leaving their job, and moving to a rural area. Note I didn’t say small town – many of the same rules apply to small towns as large cities. I mean at least a few miles from Main St. Not to mention, there’s lots of vacant lots right now in the sluggish real estate market that could be put to good use. That’s exactly what Rob Ellis decided when he opened Astor Farms in Charlotte, his hometown. He grows tilapia in an abandoned DHL warehouse near the Charlotte airport. And he shared his story at the NC Aquaculture Development Conference last week in New Bern, NC.

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