North Carolina’s shellfish aquaculture industry has been small but stable for over 30 years. The southern portion of the North Carolina coast has consistently provided more than 50 percent of the wild harvest in the state, which has been driving interest in creating new oyster farms throughout the region. Simultaneously, increased interest in shellfish aquaculture has placed pressure on resource managers making siting decisions. New farms provide an opportunity to assess conditions after farm installation, making North Carolina estuaries an ideal place to explore the ecosystem services of shellfish farming. This project aimed to link small-scale changes around oyster farms with larger-scale ecosystem-level alterations, and provide local assessment of ecosystem services to be considered by decision-makers.
In this October 2020 webinar, Beth Darrow, Martin Posey, and Doug Bell described how two years of intensive sampling in and adjacent to oyster farms and ongoing collaboration with oyster farms and the policy community has resulted in the production of visualization tools and models that will allow resource managers, shellfish growers, and other end users to make better decisions when determining the locations and scales of shellfish farming operations. The team found that environmental impacts of these farms were minimal, but that policy decisions were more complex. This finding led to an additional project examining the extent of shellfish aquaculture within the nationwide Reserve system.