North Carolina oysters and the watermen who grow them hold a distinguished place in our State’s rich coastal heritage and history. Building on the work of Senator Bill Cook to revitalize the state’s oyster industry, we are doing our part by educating our colleagues in the State Legislature to better appreciate and support the incredible strength of the mariculture, commercial fishing industry in our State. During the 2017 legislative session, Senator Cook and I with the support of our colleagues, successfully secured the following, but not limited to, oyster revitalization funding:

  • $500,000 to the Dept. of Environmental Quality to support the UNCW Shellfish Research Hatchery;
  • $1.1 million net appropriation for cultch planting;
  • $1.4 million net appropriation for the Oyster Sanctuary program;
  • $150,000 to the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory to develop a Shellfish Mariculture Plan.

Due to multiple new oyster spawns in 2017, we resulted in oyster seed production increasing by over 65 percent. Over one-half million seed and 2 million larvae were sold to growers and another 50,000 seed and 1.75 million larvae were provided to researchers in 2017.

As a result of our appropriation, the State hatchery continues to use these funds to expand and strengthen its selective breeding program to develop and increase production of lines of oysters that perform well (fast growth, high survival) in North Carolina waters.

The State hatchery has been able to provide broodstock from three lines to a commercial hatchery and another line to Carteret Community College’s hatchery.  With the expansion of the demonstration site in early 2017 and expanded production in 2016, more oysters were grown, increasing their ability to select superior performers for the 2018 production cycle, which began last month. To date, their selected lines continue to show increases in the yield of market-sized oysters at 18 months.

During this upcoming short session, I’ll be sponsoring legislation continuing our efforts to promote long-term viability and production of the mariculture, oyster industry. Senator Cook and I have met with multiple stakeholders and associations, developing/crafting thoughtful legislation in order to implement a comprehensive plan to expand/increase fresh wild-caught and farm-raised oysters in North Carolina.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, oysters have become one of the many reasons Virginia is such a unique tourist destination. In fact, in 2016, the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) won a prestigious national award from U.S. Travel Association for its work promoting Virginia oysters and the Virginia Oyster Trail, a new tourism initiative connecting travelers with Virginia’s oyster farms, raw bars, wineries, restaurants and artisans. To learn more about Virginia oysters and the Oyster Trail, click here.

Recognizing the substantial potential for oyster tourism in North Carolina, I believe we need the creation of a “North Carolina Oyster Trail” program and a North Carolina Oyster Festival. Agritourism in North Carolina is well-known and available year-round. Thus, North Carolina oysters could and will be an important factor in agritourism growth in the State.

With over 3,00 square miles of open water, the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary is the largest estuarine complex contained in one state in the country. What lobster is to Maine, is equivalent to what I would to see oysters to North Carolina. There is no better place in the world for the oyster industry to grow than North Carolina.

During the recent Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Pamlico) and I discussing the Committee agenda, which included a security operational assessment report on the Pasquotank Correctional Institution and Correction Enterprise. We must do all that we can to protect our hard-working and valuable public safety officers, law enforcement and first-responders. We rely on our law enforcement professionals and first responders 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during holidays, good and bad weather. I cannot thank them enough for choosing a career in public safety and keeping all of us safe.