MOREHEAD CITY — The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries has received its first application for its new Shellfish Lease Restoration Permit and it’s from a shellfish grower in Carteret County.
The DMF began offering the new permit April 12, and April 14, UNC Institute of Marine Sciences professor of chemical ecology Dr. Niels Lindquist became the first to apply for the permit.
In addition to being a marine scientist at IMS in Morehead City, Dr. Lindquist is also one of the owners and operators of Sandbar Oyster Co. The News-Times reached out to Dr. Linqduist and David Cessna, his business partner, for comment, but neither were immediately available.
According to a press release May 3 from the DMF, the permit makes it possible for shellfish lease holders to sell oysters and other shellfish to government agencies, environmental organizations and more for use on man-made oyster reefs, living shorelines and other restoration endeavors. The permit allows shellfish growers to transport oysters and other shellfish not meant for human consumption to these types of sites.
DMF habitat and enhancement section chief Jacob Boyd said in an email Monday since the permit was made available, they’ve issued one permit as of Monday, which was to a grower in Carteret County.
“We’ve had very positive responses from shellfish growers and other stakeholders, including environmentalists,” Mr. Boyd said. “The SLRP not only provides a new market for shellfish growers to be able to sell their product, but also provides another avenue for valuable material for restoration sites throughout North Carolina.”
Prior to the permit, this activity was prohibited. Mr. Boyd said in the May 3 release state officials are “committed to promoting the use of living shorelines and shellfish restoration efforts.”
One local environmental group is pleased with the division’s efforts to help growers and restoration projects. N.C. Coastal Federation Executive Director Todd Miller said in an email Monday this permit “provides new ways to obtain seed oysters that could enhance the productivity of shellfish management areas that are open for public use and harvest.”
“It was very responsive of the DMF to create the means by which shellfish farmers can help restore native oysters outside of their leases,” Mr. Miller said. “The state acted quickly to create this permit to help the industry and the environment; it opens up a new market for cultivated oysters that may help enhance native stocks.”
DMF staff review SLRP applications, which must include harvest, transportation and placement methods. Mr. Boyd said no fee is charged for the permit.
“The grower must provide proof of all required licenses and other state and/or federal permits covering the activity,” he said. “Depending on the completeness of the initial SLRP application, the estimated timeframe is approximately two weeks for turnaround.”
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 as such.
“There are many important state and federal requirements restricting the amount of time shellfish can be out of the water before they are refrigerated,” Mr. 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 lease to restoration sites and exempts this activity from the sanitation rules, but the permit conditions were developed in a way to minimize the potential risk to public health, according to the DMF.
Shellfish growers must still abide by all sanitation rules and other requirements when the shellfish is on the lease. Additionally, shellfish transported under the permit may only go to restoration sites in waters closed to shellfish harvest.
DMF staff began working on the permit last spring when the coronavirus pandemic started to affect shellfish sales to seafood markets, restaurants and other venues. Staff began looking for new avenues for growers to recoup some of their losses.
“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,” Mr. Boyd said.
He said discussions on the permit began in 2019, as part of the division’s effort to promote living shorelines and shellfish restoration.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.