BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Nearly 3,000 acres of shellfishing waters in our area now closed indefinitely, leaving both commercial fishers and seafood dealers concerned about their livelihoods.
In Varnamtown, many residents rely on seafood as a source of income. After the NCDEQ shut down 255 acres of shellfishing waters in the Lockwood Folly River, some fishermen say they don’t agree.
Michael Fulford owns Carson Varnam’s Shellfish Market, a business his grandfather started back in the 1960’s.
“The oysters in the Lockwood Folly have a really salty flavor, kind of a distinct flavor that people really like,” Fulford said. “A lot of people that come here, that’s what they’re actually looking for.”
He says the closure of shellfishing waters in Lockwood Folly won’t hurt the oyster business right now because the season just ended, but it will hurt the clamming business.
“It’s definitely going to affect the guys clamming,” Fulford said. “I was talking with one of them yesterday, and they were a little concerned on where they were going to be able to go clamming at, because last summer, I think they did the majority of their clamming in this river.”
One of those clammers is Ernie Galloway. He’s retired, but relies on clamming in the river as part of his income. Now, most of the water he clams in is off limits.
“There’s a little place right in front of the inlet that you can go, but if over two people go you might as well stay home,” Galloway said.
The DEQ says it regularly tests these areas for water quality and on March 15 found that fecal bacteria levels exceeded the national standards for safe shellfish harvest.
Galloway says when he contacted the DEQ Division of Marine Fisheries, he was told something else.
“He said ‘well, I looked at this book, and if you get so much rainfall in five years, we’ve got to close a portion of the river down.’ So, I said well, what’s that got to do with it? He said that’s just the rule,” Galloway said.
Galloway says he doesn’t believe enough testing is being done and if closures like these keep happening, Lockwood Folly shellfish will get a bad name.
“If people read fecal bacterial in Lockwood Folly river is high, we don’t want to eat none of that stuff,” Galloway said. “Well, it’s not really!”
WWAY has reached back out to Shannon Jenkins, chief of the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality section to see if what Galloway was told about the rain levels was true, but have not yet heard back.
The DEQ has said they will continue testing the water.