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#06-293 October 30, 2006  

Oyster resource update now online

A comprehensive coastal resource report updating and summarizing the status of South Carolina’s oyster resource is now available online.

The report provides an update on the 2005 status of oyster resources in South Carolina, and is accessible at: www.dnr.sc.gov/marine/publications.html. The updates are the result of research and on-site resource assessments by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Shellfish Management and Research Programs.

The DNR manages 255 shellfish growing areas, comprised of State Shellfish Grounds, Culture Permits,Oyster gathering Mariculture Permits, Public Shellfish Grounds and grant areas covering over 2,000 oyster resource acres. Currently, there are 67 State Shellfish Grounds, which are areas open to both recreational and commercial harvesting. The DNR manages 156 culture and mariculture permitted areas, which are under private management for commercial harvesting. There are 20 Public Shellfish Grounds available for recreational harvesting only.

The health of the oyster resource in South Carolina is important for their commercial and recreational harvestable value, as well as for their ecological significance and capability to form complex reefs. The oyster reefs act as filter feeders that clean coastal waters and support numerous marine organisms while protecting fragile shorelines along tidal creeks.

Commercial landings of the oyster resource during the 2004-2005 harvest season tallied 81,548 bushels of oysters, of which more than 20,000 bushels were harvested from State Shellfish Grounds. Other areas open for commercial harvesting include privately maintained culture permit areas. Landings from commercial harvesting of State Shellfish Grounds during the 2004-2005 season were 8 percent higher than the previous year’s landings. The approximate value of oysters during this season was $1,236,200, a decrease from the previous season’s harvest of about, $1,321,700.

Of the 22 State Shellfish Grounds assessed for oysters after the 2004-2005 harvest season, 11 had declined in quality, four remained unchanged and seven had improved since the previous assessment. For the 2005-2006 season, the DNR closed 16 State Shellfish Grounds to commercial harvesting.

The DNR assesses recruitment and growth of larval and juvenile oysters at numerous sites spanning the coastline. Recruitment at 38 sites surveyed between spring 2004 and spring 2005 was the highest observed in seven years of monitoring. Numerous sites were also sampled for the oyster diseases Dermo and MSX, which are both not harmful to humans. All sites sampled had Dermo levels that are typical for South Carolina waters, and only two sites had MSX infections.

Oyster restoration and enhancement efforts continue to bolster intertidal habitats that are susceptible to elements such as boat wakes, over-harvesting, coastal development, declines in water quality and loss of oyster shells to driveways and land fills. Restoration efforts are supported through the DNR’s oyster recycling initiative, which uses donated and recycled shells from the public to enhance Public and State Shellfish Grounds. According to Jason Comer, with DNR’s Shellfish Management Program, “To sustain recreational and commercial oyster harvests, it’s important for harvesters and oyster roast participants to remember to recycle their shells. The DNR maintains the Oyster Shell Planting and Recycling Program, funded in large part through the sale of Saltwater Fishing Licenses, and returns all of these donated and recycled shells to the estuaries to ensure future generations of oysters.”

There are currently 16 oyster shell recycling drop-off sites in coastal areas. To find a nearby drop-off site, contact the DNR at (843) 953-9300 in Charleston, or visit:  http://saltwaterfishing.sc.gov/oyster.html

Recreational harvesting maps (S.C. Public Shellfish Grounds and S.C. State Shellfish Grounds) can also be obtained on the DNR Web site: www.dnr.sc.gov/marine.html. The maps are displayed by county.
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