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Changes could be coming for oyster harvesting

Published On: Dec 24 2013 06:17:41 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 16 2013 09:21:01 PM CDT
MOREHEAD CITY, CARTERET COUNTY -

Local scientists are hoping to change the way oysters are harvested in North Carolina. It's still in the works, but it could help fisherman collect more oysters each time they go out to harvest.

Oysters for consumption have to be cooled quickly after being caught. The time in which fisherman have to cool the oysters has been decided by the F.D.A.. But the rules the F.D.A. have put into place for this "cooling time"are based off of oysters from the Gulf Coast.

"We believe we have a different population of bacteria here in North Carolina than they do in the Gulf Coast." said Dr. Brett Froelich.

Froelich is one of many scientists working on the project. He is a biologist working at UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. The project primarily includes Dr. Rachel Noble from the Institute of Marine Sciences, Pattie Fowler from the Department of Marine Fisheries, and Dr. James Oliver from UNC Charlotte.

Twenty oysters are collected every week from sites across North Carolina. Sites are rotated to get an even sampling. At the same time the oysters are collected, scientists also take temperature and salinity measurements (how salty the water is).

Back in the lab the oysters are blended up into "oyster milkshakes" and tested in petri dishes for bacteria. Dr. Froelich says all things have bacteria, but they are looking specifically for dangerous bacteria. What scientists hope to find is solid proof that North Carolina oysters are generally safer than Gulf Coast oysters, and don't need to be held under as strict of regulations by the F.D.A..

"Say if the salinity is very high or the temperature is very low or some combination of those ranges, the oysters may be safer and that's what we are hoping to prove." said Dr. Froelich.

In general, North Carolina water is cooler and saltier than water in the Gulf Coast area. In theory, this would make it harder for more dangerous bacteria to thrive. The ultimate end goal would be for fisherman to have more time before having to cooling their oysters.

"There would be more time to collect more oysters and more time to be out there harvesting and less time processing and therefore they could land more oysters." said Dr. Froelich.

The project originally was slated to span a year. After a year of research, the group of scientists will approach the F.D.A. with their findings. With their findings, they hope the F.D.A. would produce more tailored regulations for North Carolina. There is a chance the study could continue on for an additional two years, if funding is approved on a federal level.