The N.C. Coastal Federation is looking to develop the mariculture infrastructure in Eastern North Carolina, with help from the state still needed.

The nonprofit organization, through funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, released a feasibility study July 9 detailing the shellfish mariculture industry’s potential to “diversify the state’s coastal economy and provide high-wage, year-round jobs.”

The study acknowledges that tourism-specific industries dominate coastal areas, but that “Ultimately, the coastal region must pursue economic resilience to bring prosperity to all residents.”

The study was sparked by a plan from the state’s General Assembly, which created a shellfish mariculture advisory committee in 2018 with a list of recommendations to support and expand the industry.

“The strategic plan encourages the industry to grow to a value of $100 million by 2030,” NCCF Executive Director Todd Miller 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 feasibility report, which saw 40 individuals in and around the industry interviewed, concludes with the proposal to begin developing infrastructure, namely incubators, dedicated to mariculture growth in three counties – Onslow, Carteret and Hyde. The sites must meet certain requirements, such as the land being owned by a public entity or a well-established nonprofit.

“These sites need to be close to the water,” Miller said, “with nearby boat ramps (or other forms of water access) so that growers that don’t own waterfront land can then get to shellfish leases.”

Onslow County has 46 shellfish leaseholders and 322 acres in leases. Carteret has 101 shellfish leaseholders and 355 acres, while Hyde has 26 leaseholders and 230 acres.

In Onslow County, the site with the highest number of recommendations was Stump Sound, at the Morris Landing Clean Water Preserve. The 52-acre site is already the location for an 11-year coastline restoration project on land owned by the NCCF. There are currently no facilities or structures on the property, which features 3,000 feet of shoreline.

Per the report, “The incubator on this site would service the 21 existing shellfish leases in the immediate vicinity of the site and six leases in permit process. Given the site’s proximity to Pender County it could serve a good portion of its 56 permitted leases (Table 8). Initially, this incubator would support around 20 jobs (two jobs for every of the 10 available spaces in the facility) and potentially the creation of many more.”

The incubator would be located on the water’s edge with a dock providing access to waters open for shellfish harvest. There will be cold storage and mechanical refrigeration, a loading ramp, pressure washing station and equipment to sort and grade product at the site. It will also be accessible by 16-foot and 18-wheeler trucks.

The NCCF 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 report 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.”

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 percent 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.”

The federation has plans to officially meet with officials in all three counties sometime over the next two months, and a grant proposal could be made to the EDA by the end of the year.

Email Zack Nally at zack@thenewstimes.com.

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