The real gem

Published 5:35 am Thursday, June 19, 2008

By Staff
On June 26, 10 local restaurants, state agencies and other organizations will be recognized for their participation in the N.C. Oyster Shell Recycling Program.
Good for them, and good for the future of the state’s oyster population.
Plaque recipients include restaurateurs who agree to separate their oysters shells from trash so those shells can be picked up for the program. Program participants include local governments and solid-waste businesses that provide collection sites for oyster shells. The collected shells are used to create oyster reefs in the state’s shellfish waters.
Because of habitat loss, pollution, disease and harvest pressure, the oyster population has declined by 90 percent since the turn of the 20th century. Commercial harvests three years ago totaled 71,500 bushels compared to 1.8 million bushels landed in 1902. The program, which began in the fall of 2003, wants to reverse that trend.
Although an important part of the state’s seafood industry, oysters are much more than just seafood enjoyed by many people.
Oysters clean water by feeding on plankton and waterborne detritus. One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, so the larger and healthier the oyster population, the cleaner the water. Oyster reefs provide an artificial habitat for other creatures that are important to the estuarine environment. Algae, worms, barnacles, crabs, small minnows and fish will live in and around the reefs.
One oyster produces millions of eggs every year that are carried by currents and tides, spreading them to other areas. From dumping the shells overboard in certain areas with brackish water and good tidal flow, the artificial reefs created will provide an environment where these eggs can settle, grow and reproduce.
Of the 10 entities that will receive plaques next Thursday, seven are in Beaufort County. The remainder are in Martin County.
Beaufort County’s plaque recipients are Blackbeard’s Restaurant and Lounge, GDS, Ginn’s Seafood, N.C. Department of Transportation’s maintenance facility, Pamlico Plantation Yacht Club, Pamlico-Tar River Foundation and Washington Crab &Oyster Co. Martin County’s plaque recipients are Sunnyside Oyster Bar, the county’s solid-waste department and Weblos II, Pack 29 in Williamston.
These program participants deserve to be honored for their efforts. Those efforts, hopefully, will result in the state’s oyster industry becoming stronger in coming years. North Carolina restaurants, many of them buying oysters from states along the Gulf of Mexico, should be able to buy oysters harvested from the North Carolina’s coastal waters.
Varnam believes that without the program’s participants, the initiative would not succeed.
Some people talk and provide pearls of wisdom. These 10 entities are turning talk into action that should result in more oysters. That’s the real gem produced by the oyster-shell recycling program.