Co-published with the Carteret County News-Times
Carteret County commissioners Monday night agreed to support the concept – but not yet the details – of a Carteret County Mariculture Hub at the county-owned and operated boat ramp at Straits in North River off Harkers Island Road.
Todd Miller, founder and executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, pitched the idea to commissioners during their monthly meeting in their chambers in the administration building on Courthouse Square.
Basically, Miller told the board, the idea is to use an unused acre at the boat ramp to build a dock and a 50-by-50-foot building with refrigerated storage so shellfish farmers, mostly oyster growers, can bring their products to shore and store them until they can be picked up for distribution elsewhere.
The Coastal Federation is seeking grants to build the facilities. Miller said it would not be a retail operation and agreed that his organization would try to site the facility in such a way as to help county commissioners find a way to still put in two additional boat ramps at the facility.
Commissioner Chris Chadwick, who represents the Down East communities, said that was an important consideration, as the existing ramp is overcrowded and chaotic at peak usage times.
The Coastal Federation for many years has been engaged in a long-term effort to increase oyster production in coastal North Carolina, in part to buoy the economy but also to protect and improve water quality.
Oysters filter pollutants as they feed.
Miller told commissioners the North Carolina General Assembly is strongly supportive of growing the oyster farming industry and believes growth would be a public benefit. The legislature has set a goal of increasing production from an economic benefit to the state of $6 million in 2018 to $100 million by 2030.
Carteret County, he said, leads the state in oysters grown in leases approved by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, and many of those are in North River, making the Straits site a good choice for a hub. The Division of Marine Fisheries is also supportive, he said.
In 2010, statewide, there were 10,000 bushels of farm-raised oysters, and by 2021, there were 60,000 bushels, so the industry is already growing. After a dip following Hurricane Florence in 2018 and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of applications for leases is also growing.
A recent study, Miller said, identified training, water access and refrigerated storage as hurdles to growth of the industry.
But, he said, the aquaculture program at Carteret Community College is already doing a great job with training, so with improvements in those other two areas, there is a lot of room for expansion of the industry.
He said he believes there is room on the Straits site, with re-permitting from the state, for the proposed facility and additional boat ramps.
Commissioner Jimmy Farrington of Emerald Isle, who represents a portion of western Carteret County, noted that the county, through its Shore Protection Office, had worked successfully with the Coastal Federation on several projects, including dredging and a living shoreline with a rock sill and planting of wetlands vegetation, at Atlantic Harbor in Down East.
The main thing, he said to Miller, is for the growers to work together with the federation and the county to make the idea feasible and successful.
Chris Matteo, president of the North Carolina Shellfish Growers Association, also spoke at the meeting Monday and said he believes that will happen.
“I’m committed,” he said.
As a result of the discussion, Carteret County Manager Tommy Burns is to write a letter in support of the concept, at the direction of the commissioners.
Miller is to return to the commission at some point with more details. He noted that there is a long way to go, as permits must be obtained for the building and for the dock.