Ken Styron tends to his oyster farm off Cedar Island. File photo: Baxter Miller

NC - Hard-Hit Oyster Growers Ineligible For Aid

Oyster sales in North Carolina and other coastal states throughout the country tanked when restaurants halted dine-in service in March as part of the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Everyone – East Coast, West Coast – once COVID-19 shut down restaurants pretty much all growers saw their sales drop between 95 and 100%,” said Chris Matteo, East Coast Shellfish Growers Association North Carolina representative. “Restaurants are our primary client. Most high-end and middle-tier restaurants aren’t normally involved in the takeout business. Even the ones that did pivot to takeout, people just generally aren’t comfortable buying or selling raw shellfish for takeout. The market collapsed.”

Oyster farmers are among the ranks of numerous American growers who’ve experienced tremendous crop losses as a result of the pandemic. Yet oysters are not on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s list of specialty crops, leaving shellfish farmers out of the running to receive federal aid afforded other farmers, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP.

Oyster farmers are eligible to receive a portion, though small, of more than $5 million North Carolina received as a part of a $300 million allocation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to states, tribes and territories with coastal and marine fishery participants.

Participants include resident commercial fishermen, seafood processors and dealers, for-hire fishing businesses and privately owned marine aquaculture businesses that grow products in state or federal U.S. waters, such as shellfish leases, hatcheries and nurseries.