A multi-stakeholder group worked together to create a shellfish mariculture plan for North Carolina in order to grow the industry in a sustainable way. Shellfish mariculture is the cultivation of oysters, clams, mussels and other bivalves in contained areas in estuarine waters. Because most bivalves are filter feeders, mariculture helps improve water quality. North Carolina has great potential to lead the way in oyster mariculture because of its clean water and the dedicated scientists, fishermen, and policymakers who support the development of this industry.

In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Section 13.13 of Session Law 2017-57, directing the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill to use a stakeholder process to prepare a Shellfish Mariculture Plan for the state by December 2018. To fulfill this mandate, the Collaboratory is partnering with the University of North Carolina – Institute of Marine Sciences and other relevant stakeholders. The partnership is utilized the expertise of the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s long-established and effective oyster stakeholder group that helped prepare the 2015 Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for North Carolina. A subset of this group focused on developing the Shellfish Mariculture Plan. Development of this plan was a key step in implementing the mariculture goal of the Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for North Carolina that includes seven major goals related to oyster restoration and mariculture.

By law, the Shellfish Mariculture Plan includes an evaluation of best practices in other states and nations, analysis of siting strategies for shellfish mariculture operations and recommendations for improvements to legal protections for mariculture operations, cultch planting and strategies for control of shellfish pests. The Collaboratory, in consultation with various stakeholders, also developed conceptual plans and recommendations to promote the state’s shellfish harvesting heritage, including the creation of a North Carolina Oyster Trail and a state Oyster Festival.