To feed a hungry world, it’s no longer enough to catch wild seafood. Many fisheries are in decline because of overfishing, environmental stresses or both, and human demand for protein has never been greater. That means aquaculture has to be a growing part of the world’s food supply. Here in North Carolina, it’s also an essential component in growing the economies of our coastal communities.
A case in point is the state’s oyster fishery, which once supplied much of the East Coast, but now can’t even meet demand from within North Carolina. Our state is working hard to emulate our neighbors to the north, who through state-sponsored shellfish research hatcheries have bred a better oyster, able to thrive in Chesapeake Bay and other Virginia waters.
In 2011, North Carolina began supporting a hatchery, right here on the CREST Research Park in Wilmington. UNC Wilmington faculty researchers and student workers are using selective breeding techniques, supplemented by some high-tech genetic research, to develop new strains of oysters to suit our state’s waters. The hatchery is also working with scallops, which are more challenging to grow but more lucrative to sell, as well as sunray Venus clams. But oysters are its primary product.