Shellfish aquaculture took hard hit from Hurricane Florence

Published: Feb. 27, 2019 at 8:52 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The oyster industry in North Carolina took a hit from Hurricane Florence.

According to the North Carolina Sea Grant, close to $10 million was lost due to the storm. The losses included not only the oyster grow but also equipment used to harvest.

Evan Gadow, with Three Little Spats Oyster Company, says most of their oysters in bottom cages made it through the storm, but they lost a few of their floating cages and also saw a 25 percent increase in mortality rate the next couple of months.

Heavy rain from the hurricane caused salinity in the water to drop to harmful and potentially lethally low levels. Adult oysters weren’t as affected, even though many suffered severe stress which will lead to death of the organism.

Young, baby oysters and larvae died due to the conditions. The extra water brought runoff downstream into oyster farms, some of which were contaminated. The extra sediment also buried and suffocated the oysters, causing them to die.

“What the farmers lost for this year’s harvest is one thing but what’s really bad about it is, they had a lot of seed oysters, small oysters, in the aquaculture, and they might have lost a lot of next year’s harvest so that’s a big concern right now,” said Troy Alphin, UNCW senior research associate and shellfish biologist.

Some farmers lost up to 80 percent of their grow. James Hargrove, owner of Middlesound Mariculture Oyster Company, says he lost 25,000 oysters out of his crop as well as equipment. He says it took 10 days after the storm to clean and pull up the cages and flipped over gear.

Farmers are ready to move on from this setback. Since mostly baby oysters suffered the biggest loss, farmers have to go out of state to get their seed for next year’s crop.

North Carolina shellfish aquaculture is a growing industry, and since last year, the economy has doubled.

“We’re going to continue to build and hopefully take this operation to a multi-million dollar industry in five years,” said Hargrove.

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