I hope you’ll forgive a break from our regularly-scheduled programming today for an important message concerning everyone’s favorite bivalve.
There’s something of a turf war waging in South Carolina, one that’s catching honest farmers in the net of one of the South’s worst traditions: the reluctance to change.
Despite the fact that oyster farms are good for the environment, make for better fishing, boost the economy and — oh — produce delicious, nutritious food (!) a group of change-averse folks in Charleston are attempting to cook up some half-baked legislation to prevent farms from thriving. It is as short-sighted as it is ill-informed — the details are outlined more below in a letter from our friends at Toadfish Outfitters.
Here’s my two cents: the South’s identity is one long-defined by its food, farming and rural cultures. We need future generations to evolve alongside our changing land and waterways — to be not only good stewards, but champions of the place we call home. And while the past is never dead, it can still be “past”. Being amenable to change, especially when that change is an investment in the future of our community, is not only progress by definition, it’s just plain good sense. Which is why even if you don’t eat oysters, reside in South Carolina, or sport on its waters, I hope you’ll still chime in.
“Not too long ago, the Chesapeake Bay and Pacific Northwest’s oyster populations were almost completely eradicated by disease and overfishing, (NOAA, 2019). What both of those regions realized too late is that the cost and time required to restore a wild oyster population goes up dramatically after the oysters are wiped out. It has taken the Pacific Northwest nearly 40 years to start to see significant results of replenishing their wild oyster population (Puget Sound Institute, 2019).
Unfortunately, South Carolina is currently flirting with the same outcome as those two famous oyster regions. All it takes is one major event, like a hurricane or disease outbreak, to completely wipe out the population leading to decades of expensive rebuilding. That is why it is crucial to practice preventative restoration rather than the forced restoration that happens after the damage is done.
There is a small group of farmers using the latest preventative mariculture techniques to revive the industry and replenish the Lowcountry waterways with oysters. Mariculture not only takes the stress off of the wild resource by offering a locally-sourced alternative, but it has the potential to dramatically reduce the state’s shell deficit of 10,000 bushels per year (Ben Dyar, SCDNR).
Unfortunately, these South Carolina oyster farmers have recently become the target of a small group of Charlestonians who want to see mariculture farms shut down or have the industry become so regulated that oyster farmers can not continue to run their businesses efficiently.
Opponents claim that oyster farms block waterways, are deterrents of wildlife, and our permits are too easy to obtain. In reality:
1. Oyster farms have strict navigational guidelines including being 50 ft. from the shore at low tide and not taking up more than 33% of the navigable waterway as determined bythe Army Corps of Engineers. All of the gear is subject to U.S. Coast Guard marking standards.
2. The floating cages used to raise the oysters encourage and attract wildlife -- crabs, fin fish, lobsters, octopie, juvenile fish, shrimp, inshore and offshore fish (seabass, grouper)(NOAA, 2019) flock to these oyster cages for shelter and feed off of the nutrients the oysters provide.
3. Oyster farms go through a rigorous process to obtain permits and licenses to run their farms. The permitting process takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months and goes through three separate government agencies (SCDNR, OCRM, and the Army Corps of Engineers). The total out of pocket cost just to submit a permit is around $8,000 which is non-refundable if the permit isn’t issued.
These farms are fully sustainable, give back to the ecosystem, and provide jobs and money to the local (usually rural) economies in Charleston and the rest of the Lowcountry. The oysters coming out of the South Carolina oyster farms are world-class and are a favorite among dozens of restaurants in the state, giving locals and tourists a true taste of the Lowcountry.
Please sign this petition to show your support for SC oyster farmers. Send a message loud and clear to legislators.”
- from our friends at Toadfish Outfitters