Oyster, clam seasons in SC will close soon

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South Carolina’s oyster season will close on Tuesday, May 15 according to S.C. Department of Natural Resources officials. Clam season will be extended another two weeks and close on Thursday, May 31. The seasons have been open since September 17th.

Both seasons close at one-half hour after official sunset. Find out more about shellfish harvesting regulations (Pdf file).  Coastal waters will remain closed to recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting for clams and oysters until the fall when water temperatures and weather conditions warrant the shellfish suitable for harvesting.

According to Mel Bell, DNR’s Office of Fisheries Management Director, “Preliminary indications from our commercial harvesters point to a very successful season, with the quality of our oysters being outstanding, overall.” DNR maintains 59 State Shellfish Grounds for commercial and recreational harvesting of clams and oysters. 20 Public Shellfish Grounds are managed exclusively for recreational gathering.

Larry Toomer, a commercial shellfish harvester, culture permit holder and proprietor of Bluffton Oyster Company saw good production this season. According to Toomer, “A lot of our customers return because the quality of the oysters we harvest is excellent.” Toomer has been harvesting oysters for over 40 years in the southern coastal counties, and maintains a leased culture permit from DNR.   Permit holders are required to pay rent for their leased land and conduct shellfish husbandry, a practice of planting a required quota of bushels of shells per acre of land.  Toomer’s company shucks about 70% of the oysters they harvest for their customers, and recycles the shells to replant back onto their leased culture plots. In addition to those they recycle, Toomer notes that “Many of our customers are aware of the importance of replanting oyster shells back into the estuary, and will recycle their shells in one of the DNR drop-off locations.”

Perry Hall is one of DNR’s permitted commercial shellfish harvesters and has been harvesting oysters on state grounds in Beaufort County for 14 years. Hall echoed Toomer’s thoughts on this year’s harvesting and described a good season with great quality oysters. Hall typically harvests an average of 100 bushels of oysters per week on areas permitted along State Shellfish Grounds in Beaufort and sells to a consistent clientele, including restaurants and wholesale dealers, as well as others.

Joey and Donna Lyons are two veteran commercial harvesters in Beaufort County that have been in the trenches with this type of field work for at least 20 years in South Carolina. The Lyons said, “This has been a fantastic harvesting season for us. We put our heart and soul into the commercial shellfish industry, and this year was probably the best year we have had thus far.” The Lyons have had some difficulties keeping up with the requests they receive for oysters during the season, and sell what they do harvest to retailers, mostly from inland areas of the state. They attribute this year’s successful harvests and good quality of oysters directly to the replanting efforts undertaken by shellfish managers with DNR during the warm summer months.

DNR’s Shellfish Recycling and Replanting Program continues efforts to encourage the public to recycle their oyster shells. Currently, 19 oyster shell recycling drop-off locations are located throughout coastal counties, and collection sites can be found online. DNR refurbishes and sustains harvestable shellfish grounds with recycled oyster shells during the summer. Replanting shells is part of the cycle for maintaining the resource by providing a substrate for larval oysters to attach. When the quantity needed to refurbish these areas falls short of those that are recycled in statewide collection bins, DNR must purchase shells from other vendors. To-date over 13,300 bushels of shells have been recycled statewide during the 2007-2008 season for replanting back into the estuaries this summer. Funding for DNR’s shellfish restoration and enhancement efforts is provided by a portion of Saltwater Recreational Fishing License funds.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.