Growing Oyster Industry in NC

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Growing Oyster Industry in NC

Image: RYAN BETHEA, CCRW board member and owner/operator of Oysters Carolina.
Oysters in coastal North Carolina

Going into 2022, the oyster industry in North Carolina looked promising. Based on NCDEQ reports, oyster harvest numbers were at an all time high in 2021, with 232,016 bushels being collected by commercial fishers that year, and harvests seems to be continually growing. However, those who have oyster farms know the statewide trends aren’t always representative of individual farms and see first hand how variable harvest numbers can be year to year.

The summer of 2022 was hard for oyster farmers. Shellfish growers throughout coastal NC experienced multiple die-off events that spanned from southern Onslow through northern Carteret Counties. Farmed oysters seemed to be more impacted than wild populations and some sites lost up to 90% of their oysters.

What was unique about this year, is the geographic scope — and that across a large area, mortality events within individual estuaries all seemed to happen at the same time.” – Dr. Tal Ben-Horin, North Carolina State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology’s Shellfish Pathology Laboratory

The heat and salinity in the summer seasons usually leads to some oyster mortality, but 2022 was more hot and dry than usual. The drought conditions being felt throughout the state led to less rain and higher salt levels in coastal waters. Oysters are sensitive to their environment. Water temperature, clarity and salinity, as well as pathogens and algae are some of the factors that can influence an oysters survivability and, in many places, waters can be stressed by multiple of these different factors that cause poor water quality. Because there are so many factors that influence oyster health, it can be difficult to identify what exactly causes a mortality event.

In September of 2022, CCRW responded to an algae bloom in the New River that could be seen from Stones Bay all the way down to Chadwicks Bay. This species hadn’t been seen before in this area but was known to harm shellfish in the Chesapeake Bay. Many shellfish farmers came to us reporting die-offs but even after investigating and working with research labs, we were unable to definitively know how this bloom impacted local oyster populations.

Image: CHARLES DUNCAN, Spectrum News 1. Raw, smoked or fried? The oyster industry is growing in North Carolina.
Oysters and other shellfish are a key part of our coastal ecosystem. They are incredible at filtering water and helping create an environment for other creatures to live in. They are also very important for stabilizing shorelines and improving clarity by settling particles out of the water column.

Many coastal areas are working to recover oyster populations and ensure healthy numbers so that industry and water quality can be supported in the future. The City of Jacksonville has been leading the Oyster Highway Project for over a decade and is continuing to expand reefs throughout the River.

CCRW helps to protect oyster populations and safe harvesting through boots on the ground water quality monitoring, investigations of pollution events, and reporting health concerns to the public and local authorities.


CCRW Oyster Roast “Fun”draiser – Coming Soon!

This water quality “Shell”ebration is hosted by our friends and water quality advocates at Backstreet Pub in Beaufort NC.

This donation based event will take place on Sunday, January 22nd and starting at 3pm.

Come for live music, steamed local oysters, and hear from the Waterkeeper, Riley Lewis, about how our community works collaboratively to protect the quality of water and quality of life.

For more info about local water quality information, please contact:


Report a Water Quality Concern
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Coastal Carolina Riverwatch
Programming and Services
A recent Bird Flu is impacting our local wildlife. There have been recent reports of dead birds in the Sneads Ferry / Topsail area.


If you find significant numbers of dead birds, you should report the finding to either NCDA&CS or NC Wildlife Resources Commission. NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., or email, or call USDA at 866-536-7593.

Please consider being a part of the Waterkeeper Admiral Club with your sustaining donation of $1,000 or more.

Your donation goes directly to programming that protects the quality of water and quality of life in coastal North Carolina.

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