CARTERET COUNTY — There’s great potential for mariculture in North Carolina, especially in Carteret County, but more support from the state is needed.
This is the message from a feasibility study on mariculture infrastructure. The N.C. Coastal Federation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the coastal environment, released its U.S. Deptartment of Commerce Economic Development Administration-funded study July 9.
According to the federation, the shellfish mariculture industry has the potential to “diversify the state’s coastal economy and provide high-wage, year-round jobs.”
“The tourism sector dominates many of the more prosperous coastal areas, while hurricanes require constant adaptation to rebuild sustainably” the federation said in the study. “Ultimately, the coastal region must pursue economic resilience to bring prosperity to all residents.”
State officials have been investigating shellfish growing for the last several years. The General Assembly created a shellfish mariculture advisory committee, which created a list of recommendations in 2018 to support and expand the state’s mariculture industry.
NCCF Executive Director Todd Miller said in an email to the News-Times the federation’s study grew out of the strategic plan the General Assembly’s committee created.
“The strategic plan encourages the industry to grow to a value of $100 million by 2030,” he said. “Providing growers with onshore work space from which to state their operations was seen as a critical need to help existing and new operations succeed, since working waterfront land is so hard and expensive to secure.”
The NCCF said its study describes key infrastructure needs identified by shellfish growers, mariculture experts and economic development experts.
“Improvements in waterfront access, storage, processing and distribution and business services and training are the investments needed to propel the industry forward to the next stage,” the federation said. “To meet some of the major needs identified in this study, the development of a network of shellfish mariculture incubators is recommended.”
Mr. Miller said the study’s proposed plan is to find suitable locations where gear can be maintained and products refrigerated.
“These sites need to be close to the water,” he said, “with nearby boat ramps (or other forms of water access) so that growers that down own waterfront land can then get to shellfish leases.”
According to the federation, this network would “foster industry development” while also addressing regional needs. The federation suggests starting with three incubators, one of which would be located in Carteret County. The other two would be in Onslow and Hyde counties.
The NCCF said Carteret County has the highest number of mariculture industry investment opportunities at 27. This is largely due to the county having the highest number of shellfish leaseholders in the state, 101, according to 2019 data, the latest available from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
“The county also has the highest number of acreage in bottom and water column leases (355 acres),” the federation said. In comparison, Onslow County has 46 shellfish leaseholders and 322 acres in leases, while Hyde County has 26 leaseholders and 230 acres.
According to the NCCF study, one of the biggest types of infrastructure improvement needed is waterfront access. The federation said high property values make it hard for shellfish growers to afford private waterfront property or rented boat slips.
“For those who must rely on public launch and storage facilities, they compete with recreational boat and commercial fishing user groups,” the federation said. In Carteret County, the NCCF identified five locations for additional or expanded boat ramps.
The organization said investments in infrastructure from the state are needed “to accelerate the development of the industry’s entrepreneurial companies and position the industry as a leader in the region with expanded market share.”
“Public and private partners have a role to play,” the federation said. “Public funding agencies like the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration and the N.C. Department of Commerce can help build and renovate facilities, while private capital has the flexibility required for any investment need. Funds can also be leveraged from public agencies and funders like the (N.C.) Wildlife Resources Commission and Golden Leaf Foundation.”
Mr. Miller said now that the study is complete, the federation is looking into funding opportunities to build the proposed incubator facilities.
“The federal Economic Development Administration has a grant program that encourages business development by paying for 50% of the cost of a new business incubator facility,” he said. “We’re researching other potential sources of funding to match such a grant, should one be requested.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.