Oyster sanctuary planned for Wysocking Bay

Published 6:50 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2016

SWAN QUARTER — Hyde County is on its way to becoming the home of an oyster sanctuary.

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries is looking to position its 15th sanctuary within the Pamlico Sound near Wysocking Bay, located off the southeastern coast of mainland Hyde.

The allotted 10-acre area is to be named the Gull Shoal Oyster Sanctuary. The location will be part of a larger network of sanctuaries throughout the sound and its tributaries.

Marine Fisheries began its Oyster Sanctuary Program about 20 years ago, investigating optimal environments for oyster larvae and creating reefs on which the larvae can attach, according to Curt Weychert, a biologist and marine technician with Marine Fisheries. When creating reefs, crews use different materials based on the site, including limestone, oyster shells and crushed concrete, he said.

“The reefs attract native oyster larvae, which settle and grow to produce millions of eggs annually that are carried by currents and tides to surrounding areas,” a press release stated.

The oyster program is an ongoing series of projects, and before the Wysocking Bay project continues, officials are seeking public input at a meeting in Swan Quarter next week.

Weychert said representatives will discuss the process of creating an oyster sanctuary, as well as the benefits of having such locations, at the meeting.

Besides the obvious benefits for oyster populations, Weychert said a sanctuary could also create an ideal habitat for fish populations, support fishing activities, improve water quality and filter high levels of nitrogen and carbon out of the water.

“We’re not just commercial purposes, but recreational purposes, as well as environmental quality purposes,” he said. “It creates an area that’s free of disturbance and harvest.”

Neither shellfish harvesting nor the use of gear disturbing the bottom-dwelling reef area is allowed, the release stated.

“(It’s) a chance for the public to be aware of our project before we put it through to construction,” Weychert said. “We’ve done all the legwork.”

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries public meeting is scheduled for June 14 at 6 p.m. in the Hyde County Government Building, 30 Oyster Creek Road, Swan Quarter.