THE North Carolina Oyster Trail is a grassroots effort to
support oyster tourism throughout the coastal regions of
the state. Initially focused on the Outer Banks when it was
launched two years ago, eight companies in the Wilmington
to Topsail area now are among the 30 participants.
The idea is to drive visitors to area shellfish farms, restaurants, markets,
and educational centers. Oyster-related businesses must meet a list of criteria
to become a member.
“The Oyster Trail is putting a lot of bigger farms on the site,” says Evan
Gadow of Three Little Spats Oyster Company, an oyster farm operating
on a 60-plus acre lease near Topsail off
Permuda Island. “You can book and go on
tours, buy oysters up and down the coast.
The hope is it will be kind of like how
Napa Valley has their wine tours; we have
an oyster tour.”
The group mirrors the Virginia Oyster
Trail, which began in 2015. The North
Carolina version, administered by the
state Coastal Federation, Sea Grant and
the Shellfish Growers Association, is
slowly rolling out the program, and there
have been a few snags in the net.
New Hanover County is in a bit of a
hard spot. While wanting to encourage
blue economy, sustainable fishing, and a
healthy ocean environment, new leases
have been halted by a shellfish farm
“Getting a lease is a long process. Trying
to find an area that is not around a lot of
buildings, and development, it is hard to
do,” says Mandy Uticone, co-owner of
Carolina Beach Oyster Company. “New
Hanover County is so developed, there’s
a lot of user conflict. That’s why they have
stopped right now.”
Uticone already had her company name with plans of farming near Caro-lina
Beach. Instead, she subleases a small plot in Topsail.
Other oyster farmers echo the difficulty of getting leases. One described
the lengthy process as a nightmare that lasted three years. Another pointed
out the lack of help or incentives from the state, whereas Virginia subsidizes
“I can understand it. It is everybody’s water,” oyster farmer Conor
MacNair says. “When you put something out there in the ocean, it should
be for all our good. We did start off trying to farm in New Hanover, but we
had a lot of pushback. So, we found ourselves up here in Pender County. We
love it here. The best part of Pender is it feels like the oyster farms were here
first and then the houses came.”
N. SEA. Oyster Company farms
shellfish like these Divine
Pines of Topsail Sound oysters.
Above: A collection basket and
culling hammers are common
tools of the trade.
WBM FILE PHOTO
TIMMY DWYER/N. SEA. OYSTER COMPANY