morehead city — The N.C. Coastal Federation and N.C. Sea Grant are collaborating on a project to bring mariculture tourism to the Crystal Coast.
NCSG coastal economic specialist Dr. Jane Harrison and her associates hosted a workshop Wednesday at the N.C. State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology to discuss with potential stakeholders the N.C. Oyster Trail — a proposed grassroots project to promote mariculture/aquaculture tourism, with a focus on the oyster industry.
About 16 stakeholders attended the workshop, including marine researchers, local government representatives and shellfish growers.
Dr. Harrison said she and her associates are “trying to look at a few things when it comes to tourism.”
“We’re thinking about food tourism,” she said. “This creates a higher demand for those food products and higher prices when people understand the process and people behind the food they eat.”
As an example, Dr. Harrison cited examples of agritourism, such as people visiting orchards for apple-picking.
“A lot of people are divorced from how food’s raised,” she said, “so this has an educational angle.”
Another form of food tourism that’s growing is mariculture tourism. Dr. Harrison said this was among the recommendations included in a strategic plan developed by a committee of stakeholders in 2018 for the N.C. General Assembly.
“One of the plan’s recommendations was to fund, at the state level, an oyster trail,” Dr. Harrison said.
While the state hasn’t provided any funding yet, NCSG and NCCF have received a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant to study mariculture tourism.
“There’s a lot of players who want to see this work,” Dr. Harrison said. “We want to assess demand for mariculture tourism (and) develop profiles for potential shellfish mariculture tourism (destinations).”
She also said they’re assessing “supplies” for mariculture tourism, meaning activities and operations that can act as a draw for tourists.
“At the end of the day, we’ll identify the gaps between supply and demand,” she said. “We’ve been working with all kinds of educational groups and businesses…we’re going to do a soft launch of the oyster trail on the Outer Banks in spring.”
Carteret County Economic Development Director Don Kirkman was among the stakeholders at Wednesday’s workshop. He said he thinks it’s important to look at the project not just as an opportunity to expand aquaculture/mariculture, but as something that can “tie into the tourists’ overall experience.”
“What you’re doing is going to improve our tourism and our economy (as a whole),” he said, “I support what you’re doing.”
Hooper Family Seafood representative and local environmentalist Penny Hooper said she and her family have been growing clams and oysters in Core Sound for the last 35 years. She also formerly taught at Carteret Community College, where she said she started the college’s aquaculture program, which would often bring students to her family’s aquaculture operation.
“We love doing this,” Ms. Hooper said. “Education makes for good advocates…the oyster trail will do that.”
Carteret Local Food Network Board President Catherine Elkins said her organization loves the concept of bringing “outsiders” to Carteret County but also wants to encourage locals to develop an interest in locally raised food as well.
Dr. Harrison said a full project launch is possible in 2021. Those who are interested in being involved with the proposed oyster trail can contact Dr. Harrison by email at email@example.com.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.