ENC Features
11:53 am
Mon February 11, 2013

Shellfish Closure Following Hurricane Sandy

Storm water runoff from Hurricane Sandy has stopped oyster and other shellfish harvesting across coastal North Carolina.

Nearly a week later, Eastern North Carolina continues to clean up from the giant, category one hurricane that impacted coastal areas last weekend. The flood water has gone down and the rain has mostly dried up . But it will take time for North Carolina's shellfishery to recover.  Sandy dumped several inches of rain across eastern North Carolina and tropical storm force winds caused water to back up into rivers and sounds.

"I've never seen anything like it in my entire career."

John Cole is the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Newport. In North Carolina, the Outer Banks took the brunt of the storm.

"Dare county, they had the heaviest rain fall too, that only compounded the surge issues as well. They had anywhere from 5 to 8 inches of storm total rainfall there."

Official damage estimates have not been released However, along the Outer Banks, sections of Highway 12 and Highway 158 were washed out and covered by sand, property was destroyed and homes were flooded as a result of three to six feet of ocean and sound side storm surge.  Cole says the inner banks saw moderate impacts from the tropical system.

"40 to 60 mile per hour wind gusts during the storm across the central counties and rainfall was less around 2 to 4 inches maybe isolated amounts up to 5 inches."

Storm water runoff occurred during Hurricane Sandy as large amounts of rainfall flowed into coastal rivers and sounds. Since shellfish are filter feeders, they ingest the sediment, debris, household hazardous waste, and chemicals in the water, making them unsafe to eat. This prompted the North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries to begin implementing shellfish closures on Sunday.  Section Chief for Shellfish sanitation and recreational Water Quality Patty Fowler says the closures impact almost all coastal counties.

"So they heaviest closures, New Hanover County, Pender County, and then up in Hyde and Dare Counties, and the northern counties, they're all closed to shellfishing. We have closures here in Carteret County, but not all waters are closed."

Newport River, North River, Wifers Creek, Sleepy Creek, Jarrett Bay, Oyster Creek, Nelson Bay and South River are some of the areas closed to oyster harvesting.

"The waters from the intercoastal waterway to the mainland from the Atlantic Beach bridge to New River so that would include the mainland creeks and tributaries along Bogue Sound, White Oak River and those areas down in Onslow County as well."

Fowler says the North Carolina Division of marine Fisheries began taking water samples on Wednesday to determine the level of pollutants in the water. When bacteria levels return to normal, she says they will reopen the waters for shellfish harvesting.  Oyster season began on October 15th and the beginning of the mechanical harvesting is set for Nov. 12th. Oyster sales generate between 2 to 5 million dollars annually, depending on the year. Michael Marshall is the Central District Manager for the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. He says this season looks promising - or questionable- depending on whom you talk to.

"A myriad of fisherman were not having luck getting their five bushel limit but in other places they were able to catch their limit early and have some pretty oysters. So it kinda depends on the area you're in as to what kind of season they're seeing so far."

Months that end in "R" are traditionally when oysters are eaten. But Marshall says North Carolina oysters are often in better condition later in the season, in January and February.  Jared Brumbaugh, Public Radio East.