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Fishermen Anticipate Plentiful Harvest/Bumper Prices

MOREHEAD CITY – Usually along the North Carolina coast, early November brings chilly weather and delicious, locally harvested oysters. This year, Mother Nature is cooperating with the cooler temperatures, but she’s been making it difficult for fishermen to get to the oysters.

The opening of the state’s oyster hand-harvest season on Oct.15 coincided with record-breaking rainfall events. Pollution and contaminants from the stormwater run-off caused over a two-week closure of state waters to shellfish harvest. Fishermen are just now venturing out to ply coastal estuaries in search of the ever-popular oyster.

This year’s oyster season has been greatly anticipated because of last year’s considerable harvest. In 2004, fishermen brought almost 70,000 bushels of oysters to North Carolina docks, compared to the 40,000 bushels that had been the yearly average since the early 1990s. Many feel the 2005 oyster harvest could exceed last year’s catch.

Tar Heel fishermen are hoping their North Carolina oysters will fill the gap left by the hurricanes that ravaged much of the Gulf Coast oyster industry. In addition, higher oyster prices are expected because of the reduced national supply of the tasty mollusks.

In anticipation of increasing numbers of oyster fishermen, and to keep harvest at a steady pace, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is implementing new measures for the mechanical/dredge season opening Nov. 14.

Harvest will be allowed Monday through Friday, from sunrise until 1 p.m. In previous years fishermen were allowed to harvest mechanically until sunset.

This year the harvest limit will be 15 bushels of mechanically-harvested oysters per fishing operation, compared to the 20 bushels allowed in 2004.

In addition, the mechanical harvest will close at 1 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2005 so the DMF can assess the status of the oyster stock and determine appropriate harvest techniques and levels for the remainder of the season, which usually closes in March.

North Carolina is committed to rebuilding its once-abundant oyster stocks through a variety of techniques. Recently the N.C. General Assembly appropriated money for a number of oyster restoration projects, including planning for hatcheries to grow native oyster seed, enhancing sanctuaries to produce a brood stock of healthy native oysters and promoting oyster shell recycling. The state is also launching a project allowing pier owners to grow oysters in cages under their docks. Visit http://www.ncdmf.net/shellfish/index.htm to learn more about these innovative programs.

For more information about oyster harvest, please call Mike Marshall or Craig Hardy at 800-682-2632 or 252-726-7021.
 
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