Although South Carolina?s commercial shellfish harvest has remained stable over the past three decades, the closing of oyster canneries and most shucking houses during this period has resulted in a shortage of shucked oyster shell needed to cultivate oyster beds. The increasing popularity of backyard oyster roasts and by-the-bushel retail sales have contributed to this shortage in that, contrary to the shucking houses and canneries, shells remaining from individual oyster roasts are not usually returned to the estuary to provide a suitable surface to attract juvenile oysters. More often than not, the shell ends up in driveways and landfills.
During the summer months, oysters spawn and release free-swimming larvae, called spat, into the water column. The spat are carried by tide and current and after spending about two weeks moving in the water column, seek a suitable surface upon which to attach and begin building their shells of calcium carbonate. Unless disturbed, they will spend the remainder of their life cycle where they have attached. Centuries of oyster cultivation experience have proven oyster shell to be one of most desirable materials (called cultch) for attachment and subsequent growth of young oysters. Other cultch materials, such as shucked whelk shell and wooden stakes have been very successful in attracting and supporting oyster spat.
Each year, oyster shell used for planting public shellfish grounds has become increasingly expensive and hard to find. A SCDNR project, funded by the revenue generated by Saltwater Recreational Fishing License sales, makes it possible to recycle oyster shell and reclaim this valuable resource to enhance shellfish habitat. As this conservation initiative gains public awareness and participation, it is hoped that increased volumes of oyster shell will be made available for planting Public Shellfish Grounds by SCDNR personnel and equipment and by contract with private companies to improve recreational shellfish harvesting opportunities for the public.