Oyster mariculture can take the pressure off of the wild oyster populations while we work to recover them. They still provide the benefits of wild oysters like creating habitat and filtering the water. While these hand-raised bivalves play an important ecological role within our estuaries, they also play an important role in our local economy. Despite the benefits of mariculture, more than half of the oysters found in South Carolina raw bars are sourced from out of state.
The Conservation League actively monitors the oyster mariculture industry on our coast. Recently, homeowners in areas around proposed mariculture operations have expressed concerns about the visual impacts on our coastline, navigability of our tidal creeks, and fishing accessibility. These concerns are valid; however, to date, only modestly-sized operations have been proposed along South Carolina’s coast and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Office of Coastal Resource Management, and Army Corps of Engineers have worked together to implement appropriate restrictions that eliminate or significantly reduce these risks. The Conservation League frequently comments on these permit applications to ensure these farmers will be responsible water users. We believe the that the South Carolina oyster mariculture industry has the ability to thrive within our waterways – without hindering the local recreational activities and the beautifully pristine views of some of our rivers. We can balance community and nature.
Asking the right questions
When commenting on proposed mariculture operations, we critically assess the application. Below are some of the most important questions the Conservation League asks applicants:
- How big is the operation? To date, the largest application covered approximately 7 acres of salt marsh. The larger the operation, the greater our concerns. In some instances, we have successfully recommended that a mariculture operation’s size be reduced.
- Where is the operation located? Is it in a highly trafficked waterway and what’s the size of the waterway? What type of water users operate in the area? Is there residential development in the area?
- Are the oysters going to be growing in clean waterways? DNR maintains an interactive map showing locations where mariculture is an appropriate water use.
- Does the grower have a storm plan in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm? Typically, growers sink their gear during a storm. This has proven effective for local growers during hurricane Matthew and Irma.
- Has the grower posted a bond? Bonding provides funding that can be used in the event a mariculture operation is abandoned.
- Will the applicant follow best management practices (BMPs)?
We look at mariculture operations in the same way that we assess dock permit applications. Some are more concerning than others and it is always site specific. DNR, OCRM, and the Army Corps have been very conscious of the potential for explosive growth in this industry and have exhibited a commitment to ensuring the industry grows responsibly. If done well, the industry can happily coexist with local residents and water users.
If you have questions about South Carolina’s oysters, we’re happy to answer them! Please feel free to reach out at 843.972.3484.