Goal 1: Link Restoration of Oysters and Water Quality to an Economic Development Strategy for Coastal North Carolina

It is critical to demonstrate that invest­ments in oyster and wetlands restoration and im­proved water quality result in jobs and economic pros­perity for coastal communities. The Blueprint includes a five-year strategy for incorporating coastal environ­mental restoration as part of the formal economic de­velopment plan for North Carolina.

Goal 2: Establish at Least 500 Acres of New Oys­ter Sanctuaries.

Constructing a network of protected oyster sanctuaries of five to 20 acres in our coastal wa­ters will help ensure that there will always be abundant natural juvenile oysters (spat) to repopulate existing oyster reefs and habitats. The Blueprint calls for ex­panding the total amount of existing sanctuaries from around 150 acres to 500 acres by identifying where new sanctuaries should be located, how they should be sized, what materials and structure they should have, how they can most economically

Goal 3: Plant Cultch to Provide for Ample Sustainable Wild Oys­ter Harvest.

For several decades, the state, on average, has placed more than 230,000 bushels of shells and other ma­terials on the bottom of approximately 100 acres of coastal waters each year. These locations, some of which are proclaimed as “Shellfish Management Areas,” are where commercial harvest of oysters is encouraged as a way to sustain a viable oyster industry. The Blueprint calls for renewing the cultch planting efforts through adaptive management and using the outcome of a recent return on investment study to determine the strategy for fu­ture support and operation of this program. A study is currently being conducted to evaluate the return on investment that this program provides both historical­ly and potentially in the future. Elements of this review include: (1) the success of existing cultch planting and shellfish management locations, (2) the amount of oys­ters harvested each year, (3) how many acres of cultch are planted each year, (4) volume of shells and other materials used, (4) construction costs and options, and (5) other valuable ecosystem services provided. The outcome of this review will then determine the strategy for future funding and operation of this program.

Goal 4: Build the Mariculture Oyster Industry to Meet or Exceed Wild Harvest Levels.

Leasing and cultivation of public trust areas by private individuals for mariculture of the native oyster is an im­portant strategy for getting more oysters in the water, relieving the strain on wild populations and growing the economic importance of this fishery. The Blueprint calls for a comprehensive effort to en­courage expanded oyster mariculture by streamlining leasing and regulatory requirements while still ensuring that public trust rights, public health and fish­eries habitats are protected. Initiating oyster mariculture extension training and cost-share programs should be supported. The potential growth of this industry is significant, and this growth will make the state even more invested in perpetually protecting and restoring coastal water quality and habitats.

Goal 5: Sustainably Manage Oyster Harvest on Public Bottoms.

Wild harvest of oysters is a vital part of our coast’s economy, cultural heritage and ecosystem. Fishery management plans, harvest rules, seasons, law enforcement and public health safeguards are all vital to maintaining wild harvest. The Blueprint calls for refin­ing strategies through the fisheries management plan process and for seeking adequate resources to ensure that wild harvest can continue for years to come in a sustainable and safe manner.

Goal 6: Protect and Improve Water Quality in Priority Shellfish Growing Areas.

Pristine coastal wa­ter quality is necessary for oysters to thrive and to be safe to harvest for human consumption. The Blueprint identifies priority watersheds where protection and restoration efforts should be focused. It also identi­fies strategies for leveraging private, state and federal funds to protect and restore water quality.

Goal 7: Document Oyster Population Status and Trends Resulting From Successful Implementation of the Blueprint.

The Blueprint calls for the develop­ment of a website to contain all the necessary data and reports to enable decision-makers, fishermen, scien­tists and the public to obtain the information needed to evaluate the success of oyster restoration and manage­ment efforts over time. Key statistics for all elements of the Blueprint will be kept up-to-date on the website to ensure transparency of management efforts and pre­vent large losses of institutional knowledge.