MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – It’s been a tough season along the coast for oyster farmers due to an increase in mortality rates.
A study at the Center for Marine Science and Technology has been taking a look at what’s causing this issue. Researchers said right now, some farmers are seeing 90% mortality rates this summer.
Dr. Tal Ben-Horin is the head of the shellfish pathology lab at CMAST. His team has been taking samples and examining why this is affecting so many oyster farmers in North Carolina.
“We see these recurring, unfortunately, mortality events that really seem to be triggered when things warm up in the summer,” said Ben-Horin. “But the big trigger is salinity, during periods of less rain, and even drought, salinity creeps up, and that seems to trigger the microbes that are driving these events.”
And these deaths have been affecting local businesses.
“Larger oysters with higher metabolic demands seem to be more susceptible to this, so we see the most mortality and kind of, unfortunately, the stuff that’s just about to go to market,” said Ben-Horin.
Tyler Chadwick is the owner of Carolina Gold Oyster Company. He said he’s noticed high deaths at his farm and even provided samples for the study.
“This year has been the highest rate,” said Chadwick. “Typically in years past, we’ve seen maybe a 40% to 50% mortality max, and like I said, just today, I went out there, and we’re peaking at about 70% right now”
Chadwick said with all the other challenges like inflation, this could not be a worse time to be hit.
“A mortality event like this will probably take us close to a year to bounce back from or to repopulate our product,” said Chadwick.
Ben-Horin said his study is being paid for by the NC Commercial Fishing Research Fund and hopes to continue on for another decade.