By Erin Weeks for The Island Connection
South Carolina’s 2019-2020 season for harvesting oysters, mussels, clams and all other bivalves from state and public shellfish grounds will close May 31, a half hour after official sunset, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Because higher bacterial levels occur when water temperatures exceed 80 degrees F, shellfish harvesting during the summer months is limited to commercial harvesters who can meet rigorous handling requirements. Coastal waters will remain closed to recreational shellfish harvesting until the fall, when water temperatures begin to cool and ensure that shellfish are once again safe for harvesting and consumption. Shellfish harvesting is expected to reopen Oct.1.
Although shellfish harvesting is closed to the public during the summer, the South Carolina Oyster Recycling and Enhancement (SCORE) program accepts recycled oyster shells year-round. Shell recycling drop-off locations are located throughout coastal counties and at a few inland locations. Other types of shell, such as clams and whelks, also are accepted.
During the summer, SCDNR biologists return the recycled shell to shorelines, where it provides an ideal base for juvenile oysters to attach and grow, thereby replenishing harvested beds. When the quantity of shell needed to replant shellfish grounds exceeds what has been recycled, SCDNR must purchase shell, so even a modest increase in recycled shell can save a significant amount of money.
SCDNR’s shellfish recycling, restoration and enhancement efforts are funded in part by saltwater recreational fishing license sales.
Since late spring and early summer are busy months for SCORE’s community-based oyster restoration projects, the public is invited to work with SCDNR staff and other volunteers to create oyster habitat. The oyster reefs provide a host of ecological services, including water filtration, nutrient cycling and habitat for fish and invertebrates. However, because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, public oyster builds are currently on hold.
To learn more about harvesting regulations and the location of collection sites, call SCDNR at 843-953-9397 or visit dnr.sc.gov.