ONDBEAT: Aw-shucks: Summit aims to make N.C. ‘Napa Valley of oysters’

It sounded like a shell of a gathering.

This past Tuesday, March 12, oyster and fisher people alike were invited to join leaders, legislators and other state VIPs for the 2019 N.C. Oyster Summit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

The goal, according to a press release from the N.C. Coastal Federation, was to “discuss how to establish the state as the epicenter of a rapidly expanding worldwide movement promoting the growth and consumption of oysters.”

An evening reception, where assorted esteemed oysters and other shellfish dishes were invited to join the hobnobbers on the night’s menu, was to follow in the Transfer Co. Food Hall.

It sounded delicious, but unfortunately it was on Tuesday, newspaper deadline day (at least here at the Beacon) when day-tripping up to the state capital can best be accomplished in a brief coffee-break daydream.

Several weeks ago I thought the event was worth looking into, especially if there was to be any representation from Brunswick County, home county of the annual North Carolina Oyster Festival in Ocean Isle Beach.

According to Erin Fleckenstein of the N.C. Coastal Federation, one of the event organizers, the day was a way to unite those who care about oyster cultivation and restoration, a celebration of progress made in the state over the last two years and to “chart the course for what comes next.”

In addition to the federation, other participants were to include N.C. Sea Grant, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

On the day’s agenda, Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, was to speak on Gov. Roy Cooper’s “support for clean water and oysters.”

Legislative support for oyster initiatives was coming from state representatives from Alamance-Guilford, Jones-Onslow and Carteret, Craven and Pamlico counties. I didn’t see Brunswick County on the list.

Other topics: promoting healthy wild oyster stocks with a panel of people from NOAA, Marine Fisheries, the Coastal Federation, Crystal Coast Ecotours of Morehead City and Beaufort and Endurance Seafood of Oriental.

Also on tap were keeping coastal waters clean, new ways to grow the industry and building a $100 million mariculture industry “to deliver clean water, jobs and economic development while preserving our coastal environment.”

Another item, “Success Breeds Success: Learning from the Best” was to bring panel participants from the N.C. Wine and Grape Council and Craft Brewers Guild. This might be what inspired the Napa Valley idea.

I checked with folks in an obvious oyster-harvesting place — Varnamtown — to see who might be cruising up to Tuesday’s Oyster Summit to help make North Carolina the Napa Valley of oysters.

Longtime local seafood vendor Jackie Varnam said people in her neck of the Lockwood Folly River are too busy harvesting oysters to hobnob about oysters.

Around here, oyster pros know more about preparing for a roast than a toast.

But if others involved with the summit get their druthers, maybe someday there’ll be lots of tour boats navigating “oyster valley” to savor its offerings, aka the lovely N.C. Napa coast.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.