Save Those Oyster Shells!

June 27th, 2011

by Joyce Deaton

October marks the beginning of North Carolina’s oyster harvest. Maybe you’re celebrating sometime soon at a local eatery with a tasty mouthful of the mellow mollusk. When you finish, your oyster shells may do a little celebrating of their own. With the help of dozens of human volunteers, they’ll likely be making their way back into the Cape Fear area waters where they’re helping the state’s oyster population thrive.

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries introduced the oyster shell recycling program in 2003. “At first it was small,” says Ted Wilgis, coastal outreach specialist with the N.C. Coastal Federation. “Our organization joined with volunteers from the NCDMF, Nature Conservancy and others. The first year we recycled 700 bushels, and by 2007 that total reached 30,000 bushels.”

Volunteers use their vehicles to tow an oyster recycling trailer to festivals and oyster roasts and visit restaurants in their area once or twice a week to pick up recycled shells. The shells are dropped off at special bins maintained by NCDMF, then Oyster shell replacementplaced back into the water in new reefs or oyster rehabilitation areas. NCDMF supplements the oysters that will appear naturally with others from the Oyster Relay. In this event, volunteers (always on short notice, due to the oysters’ growing habits) move bags of oyster shells with newly cultivated oyster larvae from settling tanks to holding tanks in Stump Sound and from polluted areas to the cleaner waters of state-supervised oyster management areas.

Baby oysters start out as free-floating organisms, but soon settle to the bottom and attach themselves to hard surfaces. If they can’t find a hard substrate, they die. They’ll grow on pilings and concrete, but their preferred spot is on oysterHand replacing oyster shells shells. A mound of shells placed in brackish water with a good tidal flow will soon become an oyster reef, hosting not only the young oysters but algae, worms, barnacles, crabs, minnows and fish. Soon a diverse marine habitat results from the simple act of depositing the shells.

In addition, the filter-feeding oysters make the water cleaner by feeding on plankton and waterborne detritus. “A healthy oyster will filter 15 to 35 gallons of water a day, besides helping create food and shelter for important species such as blue crab, shrimp, flounder and grouper. This habitat is important to coastal life both ecologically and commercially,” says Wilgis.

Along with the recycling effort, these conservation organizations have worked to promote bills in the N.C. General Assembly that now make it illegal for state agencies to use oyster shells in landscaping and prohibit the use of shells for anything except oyster restoration. (Previously they were used much like gravel in coastal landscaping and ground for a variety of products such as chicken feed.) In addition, the General Assembly established a $1 per bushel tax credit and banned oyster shells from landfills. “These actions really helped get the program going,” says Wilgis. “It’s been a real grassroots effort, and it’s grown steadily. SomeRecycling bin schools have adopted restaurants for recycling, and other organizations have joined in such as CCA (Coastal Conservation Association), Fish for Tomorrow and the Pender Watch & Conservancy. Our goal is to get the shells back in the water in the area where they were collected, and this gives people a feeling of ownership.”

Wilgis estimates that North Carolina has lost about 50 percent of its original oyster habitat, and the state’s oyster harvest is down 90 percent from its peak in the 1880s. The declining habitat is the result of several factors: Intense harvest pressure during the 1880s, pollution from fertilizers and waste, sediment from coastal building and farm fields that buries oyster reefs, diseases such asOysters MSX and dermo that kill oysters before they reproduce, and drought that increases the salinity of coastal waters. Recent rehabilitation efforts already are paying off, however. Last year’s oyster harvest was double that of the previous year, and oysters protected in several sanctuaries along the coast are helping to purify the water and protect other species.

Wilgis says the recycling program welcomes more volunteers. “Besides collecting from restaurants, we also need people for education and outreach at festivals and for helping to monitor new reefs,” he explains. To volunteer, visit or, where you’ll also find the locations of drop boxes so you can recycle your household oyster shells.

Green Docks and Piers: Coming Soon?

June 27th, 2011

by Joyce Deaton

With a growing environmental awareness among homeowners, marina owners and dock builders, the momentum for using green marine building materials and techniques is steadily growing.

To find out what’s going on in the marketplace, Pilot talked with Mark Clements, owner of Clements Marine Construction in Hampstead, and Gary Bowers, general manager of Sound Marine in Wilmington. These experts see different ends of the market. Clements builds docks, piers and sea walls for residences, marinas and community docks, while Sound Marine manufactures floating docks at its Wilmington facility for installation at large commercial operations along the East Coast from Maryland to Georgia.

The real villain in marine construction, from an ecological point of view, is the chemically treated lumber used for pilings. Though the chemicals have improved from mostly arsenic to mostly copper, they still pollute. “This hasn’t changed in 25 years,” says Clements. “Since the pilings are in constant contact with the water, it’s by far the most important factor.”

Evergrain composite deckingWithin the past few months, Clements has learned of a new type of treated wood for decking boards, however. The new product is still treated lumber, but it’s treated with far smaller amounts of chemicals. “It actually looks better than the treated lumber we’ve been using,” he says. Other alternatives for decking have been on the market for some time – composite boards that last longer and are more environmentally friendly. These are marketed under the names Trex, WeatherBest and others.

“Composite decking has been growing in popularity,” says Clements. “It’s sort of like the process with vinyl sea walls. At first, people were skeptical of them, but after they began to see a few of them, they liked what they saw. Now we build most of our seawalls out of vinyl.”

Though composite materials are unquestionably longer lasting and more environmentally friendly, their cost (roughly three times that of wood) keeps many homeowners and marina operators from choosing them. “When they consider that a dock or pier around here is subject to being blown away in a hurricane, some people are going to decide not to spend that extra money,” Clements says. “Then too, when you consider the effect of the treated pilings, your choice of decking material doesn’t really make that much difference.”

TimberSILBut help may be on the way, says Bowers of Sound Marine. A new glass-impregnated lumber, which could replace treated lumber, is just hitting the market under the brand of TimberSIL. “The fibers of the wood are wrapped with glass, which protects it from damage and decay,” he explains. “It looks very promising.”

Bowers’ company has been working to design and build green docks for a couple of years. “It seems a shame to put things that are not environmentally friendly in the water because it affects everybody,” he says. Up to now, their best effort has been to build a hybrid dock that’s partly recyclable aluminum and partly wood, which keeps the cost down. “It’s hard to isolate the aluminum from the corrosiveness of the lumber, so we’re hoping this different type of lumber will be more compatible,” he says. “That will enable us to build a dock that’s cheaper, stronger, heavier and completely clean.”

Other new materials are also emerging. ArmorDock manufactures PVC piling sleeves that can be filled with concrete and reinforcing bars and can extend upward to adjust to high tides. “These are very Pearson fiberglass pilingsgood in residential settings and present no harm to the environment,” he says. “We’ve also been using Pearson fiberglass pilings, which can be constructed with a single piling mount in the center instead of two. Both of these products are more expensive than traditional treated pilings, but in some situations their cost is mitigated by easier installation.”

While most newly developed and environmentally friendly products cost more than treated lumber, Bowers says many of his customers are interested and are willing to pay more for a product that is greener. “We’ve been trying to educate ourselves and our customers, and people are certainly listening. After all, it’s pretty expensive to have our waterways slowly ruined, too.”


June 1st, 2011

Springtime Brings on Super Surf Fishing Action

Surf fishing is a great way to spend a warm spring day, or night, with Memorial Day weekend one of the most popular camping weekends at the beaches. All southern coast’s beaches have walk-in access with dedicated parking. The walk-in accesses at Oak Island are plentiful and free. Topsail and Carolina Beach are other great destinations for walking to some great surf fishing. Parking places at Wrightsville Beach are metered and fill up early. For those who prefer driving on the beach, Freeman Park at Carolina Beach’s north end and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area at the south end offer beach driving for a fee.

Flounder swarm in the surf in April and May. But many of them will be “shorts” too small to keep. Still, a few will top the 5-pound citation weight toward the end of May.

Red drum will form dense schools, with the fish weighing between three and 14 pounds. These are the juvenile fish that have headed for the ocean from the backwaters as the water starts heating up.

Other fish that can be caught during a super surf-fishing trip include Virginia mullet, bluefish, pigfish, pinfish, sheepshead, black drum, pompano, dogfish and other sharks, and spot and croaker.

Anglers should fish with fresh shrimp, cut mullet or menhaden, squid and mole crabs. A two-hook bottom rig is the ticket to the surf fishing action. But some anglers prefer using a sliding sinker rig, also called a flounder rig or Carolina rig, for targeting flounder.

While almost any spot may hold a few fish, dedicated surf fishermen look for anomalies to find the best fishing spots. Walking or driving along the beach during low tide will help the angler discover changes in the bottom such as bars, current rips, clay and cochina rock formations, shell beds and steep drop-offs. These are the places that hold the most fish as the tide rises. The best fishing action usually occurs as the tide hits its peak and the following two to four hours of falling tide.

One of the best things about surf fishing is that it is inexpensive. All you need is a rod, a couple of bottom rigs, a PVC rod holder and a bucket to haul your gear to the sand and haul your catch back home. Remember to take along some sunscreen, drinking water, a knife, pliers, a hand towel and sunglasses. If you will be fishing after dark, a lantern or flashlight is a necessity. A folding chair is a nice addition. But if you want to travel light, you can always just sit on the bucket or soak up some rays while lying down on the warm beach sand on a towel.

More From Mike Marsh

Mike Marsh’s New Book, “Fishing North Carolina,” ($26.60 ppd.) along with “Inshore Angler – Coastal Carolina’s Small Boat Fishing Guide” ($26.20 ppd.) and “Offshore Angler – Carolina’s Mackerel Boat Fishing Guide” ($22.25 ppd.), are available by check or M.O. to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Dr., Wilmington, NC 28409. Visit for credit card orders and more hunting and fishing information.

Shallotte/Calabash Area

Larry Horowitz (Voyager Fishing Charters, 910-575-5978) said the bottom-fishing seasons would open.

“Fishing for beeliners will open the first of April and grouper fishing will open the first of May,” he said. “The beeliner fishing will be excellent. Most of the bottom fishing will be happening from depths of 100 feet on out.”

Tuna, wahoo and dolphin will be biting in the Gulf Stream, with the 100/400 lines one of the top spots. The best bets for offshore trolling will be ballyhoos and strips rigged fished on trolling heads and skirts.

The top nearshore action will be the Spanish mackerel, Atlantic bonito and false albacore fishing. King mackerel will also move closer to shore as the water warms up in May.


Holden Beach/Ocean Isle Area

Capt. Brant McMullan (Ocean Isle Fishing Center, 910-575-3474) said inshore fishing for speckled trout would be excellent.
“It’s catch-and-release fishing, but our May speck bite is the best of the year,” he said. “Redfish action will be excellent in the creeks and Ocean Isle canals.”

Sight fishing for red drum will be excellent. Anglers should watch for the fish on the oyster beds and cast wherever they see shrimp popping.

Flounder will arrive in early May. The inlets should host great flounder action, with Tubbs Inlet a popular destination.

In late April, Atlantic bonito will bite over structure in 60 feet of water. Anglers should watch for the birds and sight-cast spoons and Got-cha lures for bonito. Trolling Clarkspoons is the best way to find the fish when they aren’t showing on top. Once the fish have been located anglers can catch them with jigging spoons.

Spanish mackerel and bluefish show up when the water hits 66 degrees. Big schools of menhaden will attract these toothy predators.

King mackerel will arrive at structure in 100 feet of water by April, then move to 35 to 50 feet of water in May. Kings will follow the baitfish and Spanish mackerel schools.

Grouper season will reopen May 1. Anglers should fish early to take advantage of uneducated fish. Vertical jigging in 150 to 250 feet of water will be the best bet for grouper and will also result in catches of cobia, African pompano and amberjack.

Trolling for wahoo, dolphin and tuna will take off. Anglers can also catch blackfin tuna by vertical jigging the top 100 feet.


Southport/Oak Island Area

Capt. Butch Foster (Yeah Right Charters, 910-845-2004) said whiting would be biting.

“Virginia mullet, which some people also call whiting, will be biting at the nearshore structure such as the Lighthouse Rocks and the artificial reefs,” he said. “That’s going to be your best bet for nearshore bottom fishing with the sea bass fishing closed until later on. Offshore, the grouper fishing will be good in May.”

Foster catches most of his grouper at Frying Pan Shoal. But he heads for the Same Hole for top trolling action. Another good place for finding wahoo, dolphin and tuna is The Steeples.

“We are hoping for better yellowfin tuna fishing,” he said. “It was not very good last season. But blackfin tuna turned on early this spring and it should continue to be very good into May.”

Inshore, the red drum fishing will be excellent, with the Bald Head marshes and Elizabeth River good places to catch redfish. Speckled trout will be biting, but the numbers of fish may be down due to winterkill and the fish cannot yet be retained.


Wrightsville Beach/Carolina Beach Area

Capt. Jot Owens (910-233-4139) said anglers would begin seeing redfish in the shallower water.

“On the warmer days the redfish will be on the mud banks and oyster rocks on the falling tide,” he said. “Black drum will mix with the red drum. Any kind of fresh cut bait or a scented soft plastic like the Berkley Gulp Shrimp will catch both species. Best Berkley Gulp colors are Molting and New Penny.”

The catch-and-release speckled trout fishing should be good, depending on the winter carryover. A topwater lure such as the MirrOlure Top Dog will be a good choice for fishing the grass banks.

Anglers should start looking for false albacore and Atlantic bonito from right on the beach to 10 miles offshore. Bait concentrations at the hard bottoms, artificial reefs and ledges will attract the fish and the seabirds. Small jigs, casting spoons and soda straw rigs are the best lures for these schooling fish. Trolling a No. 1 planer with a Clarkspoon down deep and a Bluewater Candy Daisy Chain on top is a good tactic for cover the water column. Good colors are pink and silver.

The big chopper bluefish weighing 5 to 15 pounds will show up at the inlets. They will strike live menhaden or mullet fished on float rigs. Good lures for bluefish include topwater poppers and mid-depth jerkbaits.

Cobia will arrive by late May. Fishermen should look for cobia around the inlets and the big schools of baitfish anywhere, from right in the surf to two miles offshore. Sight casting bucktails and pitching circle hook rigs baited with live menhaden are good ways to catch cobia.

The flounder will begin biting, with good numbers of small fish back in the creeks. The bigger fish will move inshore later in the summer.


Hampstead/Topsail Beach Area

Capt. Wayne Crisco (Last Resort Charters, 910-465-0611) said anglers should begin catching a few decent flounder in May.

“The best places for flounder will be the inlets and marina basins,” he said. “Live baits fished on bottom rigs will be the best way to catch them.”

Speckled trout fishing will be good, but anglers cannot retain any specks. Atlantic bonito will arrive in May. Bluefish will arrive in April or May and mix with the schools of Spanish mackerel and bonito. Schooling fish will be at the inlets and at the natural ledges. Divers rock is a great place to find schooling fish.

Red drum will move back into the creeks. Black drum will bite at the N.C. 172 Bridge in New River and at the N.C. 50 Highway swing bridge across the ICW.


Surf City/Sneads Ferry Area

Rusty Pate (Rusty’s Bait and Tackle, 910-329-0247) said the warm water would stir up red and black drum.

“Red drum will be biting on the south side of Lea Island,” he said. “Topsail Inlet as another red hot red drum fishing spot. In the backwaters, Turkey Creek and all the creeks in New River will hold some red drum. Black drum will be mixed with the red drum.”

Shrimp, cut baits and minnows will be the best drum baits. Speckled trout will also be biting in the same waters and the drum and trout will strike MirrOlure 17MR lures and the newer, similar Bomber Badonk-a-donk lures.

Some bonito, Spanish mackerel and bluefish will school in April. Anglers will also catch spots at Surf City pier and in the ICW.