Coastal Federation could receive $1.3 million

The N.C. Coastal Federation has been recommended to receive a $1.3 million federal grant for oyster restoration in the Pamlico Sound.

The money would come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to a release from the coastal federation.

The grant for the federation was one of 17 coastal and marine habitat restoration projects across the country to receive NOAA funding that totaled about $9 million. The coastal federation grant was the largest among them, according to the release.

“North Carolina has the potential to be the ‘Napa Valley’ of oysters, and the investment by both the state and federal agencies will help realize that goal within the next 10 years,” Todd Miller, the federation’s executive director, said in a statement.

The grant is not final, pending approval by the NOAA Grants Management Division as well as the Department of Commerce Federal Assistance Law Division, according to the release. That decision is expected by early September at the latest.

The federation titled its grant the Landscape-Scale Oyster Restoration to Benefit Four Managed Species in the Pamlico Sound. The money will go toward oyster reef construction, and another $1.5 million could become available for the project in each of the next two years for further oyster reef construction, according to the release.

The federal money will be used in conjunction with $1.33 million that was included in the state budget for oyster restoration across the state, meaning the total amount of money available for oyster restoration in North Carolina is about $2.6 million.

N.C. Sen. Bill Cook, a Republican who represents parts of eight northeastern coastal counties, said in a statement that even though the state has the second largest estuary system in the nation, 75 percent of oysters eaten in the state are imported.

“The shellfish cultivation industry in North Carolina can, and will, be a much larger part of our economy thanks to investments by the General Assembly during the last two fiscal years,” he said in a statement. “The ongoing efforts of the federation, and their partnership with NOAA, also should be applauded as they represent yet another critical step to ensure an ongoing, long-term commitment for oyster habitat restoration in our state.”

While valuable in the seafood industry, oysters are also considered valuable to the environment, acting as water filters and providing some erosion protection. They can also provide habitat for at least 26 species of fish, shrimp and crabs, according to the release.

Should the funding be received, it would pay for about 15 acres of oyster reef creation in the first year. Subsequent funding could see the creation of 45 acres of oyster reefs by the end of the three-year grant period. The goal is to create new oyster habitat, improve water quality in Pamlico Sound and create jobs in the fishing industry. Each acre of oyster reef creation is responsible for about $1,600 in commercial fish landings, according to the release.

“Because of this public-private partnership, we are basically going to double our oyster restoration efforts,” Steve Murphey, chief of the Habitat and Enhancement Section for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, said in a statement.

The N.C. Coastal Federation is a nonprofit membership organization that offers programs, projects and partnerships that strive to keep clean coastal waters while educating the public about the importance of coastal habitats.