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Scientist, fisherman combine to boost oysters off NC coast

Posted June 3

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— The oyster population along the North Carolina Coast is about 10 percent of what it once was, but an unlikely pairing of scientist and fisherman is trying to turn that around.

Meet David Cessna. He's been fishing commercially since he was 6 years old.

"Everybody calls me Clammerhead," Cessna says.

Marine Biologist Niels Lindquist, of the University of North Carolina, knew Cessna's experience would be valuable in his fight to save the oyster.

"When we started, Clammerhead thought he knew everything about oysters. I knew nothing at all," Lindquist said.

"He's not my normal consideration of what a scientist would be like," Cessna said of Lindquist.

Working together at UNC's Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, the pair developed a unique, biodegradable fiber structure where wild native oyster seedlings can attach themselves – an oyster condominium. They've deployed the material in the Newport River.

"What makes us different is we can grow oysters on a material that allows us to do a lot of different things with them oysters for aquaculture, build reefs with it, it's very versatile," Lindquist said.

This new way of growing oysters is faster and more efficient than traditional methods.

"Producing a billion oysters isn't out of the question," Lindquist said.

"We had more success than we ever planned," Cessna added. "We knew this was going to work, we just didn't know how good it was going to work, and we are happy for that success."

Their experiment is about more than boosting the supply of tasty shellfish. Oysters help stabilize the shoreline, filter polluted water and create habitat for other sea life.

UNC will hold the patent on the product, giving Lindquist and Clammerhead exclusive rights to use it.

Lindquist and Cessna noticed an interesting side effect, too. Because the Oysters grow on the fiber, the shells will absorb some of those fibers, allowing the pair to identity any oysters stolen from their beds.

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