Oyster harvesting season runs from October into May in South Carolina. The 2018 season got a late start due to Hurricane Florence and the flooding that followed.
Stormwater that flows into drainage ditches, down our rivers, into marshes and finally the ocean contains pollutants, which impacts sea creatures that we like to eat.
Katie Altman, a water resources agent with Clemson Extension says “If there are really high levels of bacteria, especially after rain events when all of that runoff brings bacteria into the water, they may have to temporarily close the shellfish beds because oysters are filter feeders and they are going to collect those bacteria and other pollutants inside of their shells, and we don’t want to be eating that.”
Picking up and throwing away pet waste, and properly maintaining septic systems are ways to help keep bacteria levels lower, and oyster beds healthier.
Fertilizer that gets washed off lawns or farms also causes problems for marine life.
Katie says “Any of the pollutants carried into the marsh can certainly have a negative health impact on some of the wildlife here. One especially that we are concerned about is excess nutrients. That might not seem like a huge deal if you improperly apply fertilizer and some of it runs off into our storm water and ends up in the marsh. What happens is it causes an algae bloom. Algae is a plant too, and it grows really rapidly with those extra nutrients. When the algae starts to die and decompose it uses up oxygen in the water really quickly. So then there is no oxygen in that area for the fish and other aquatic species and you will see large numbers of fish start to die off. Which isn’t pleasant for us to encounter. It takes some species out of the food chain and some species that we would want for food sources as well. ”
Make sure you are not over fertilizing by getting your soil tested, and only apply what is needed. Also, do not apply fertilizer before an expected heavy rain, it will just wash away.
When you eat oysters and have the leftover shells it is a good idea to take the empty shells and bring them to areas like the oyster recycling center just north of Huntington Beach, because those recycled shells get put back out into the salt marsh. Oysters when they reproduce go through a stage when they are actually swimming through the water, and they have to find a hard surface to settle out on. They can’t just land on the mud and grow. So if we put those empty oyster shells back out into the water, it provides that hard surface that young oysters need to be able to attach to and to grow. Oysters in the water are going to filter the water and create cleaner water for us and filter alot of pollutants and bacteria out of the water.