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No Deal on Shellfish as Legislators Adjourn

RALEIGH – The General Assembly wrapped up business Friday without taking action on two shellfish bills that were part of last-minute efforts by coastal legislators.

Final negotiations by House and Senate leaders left both a major rewrite of shellfish leasing laws and a narrower attempt to resolve an issue with leases in the Masonboro Nature Island Reserve unresolved.

Departing legislators Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, failed to get a deal to include House Bill 361, Support Shellfish Industry, in the final round of trade-offs between the two chambers. The bill stalled earlier this month after objections were raised by state shellfish growers to provisions allowing large area leases and out-of-state ownership.

A compromise bill that tightened leaseholder rules and reduced the size of large leases from 300 to 200 acres passed the Senate June 15 but was not taken up by the House. The bill’s plan for creation of aquaculture enterprise zones along with other provisions hammered out over the last year by a stakeholder group, are expected to be the starting point for new legislation in the General Assembly’s 2019 session. Those provisions include new oyster study guidelines, a moratorium on leases in Bogue Sound, changes to the process for lease appeals and allowing under dock cultivation for water quality purposes.

On Wednesday, as H361’s prospects dimmed, a provision in it on shellfish leases in New Hanover County, was stripped out and introduced as a separate legislation in the Senate.

The bill, introduced in a Senate committee Wednesday by Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, would have put a moratorium on shellfish leases through July 1, 2019, from the Wrightsville Beach bridge to the south shore of Snow’s Cut, including the waters of Myrtle Grove, Masonboro and Greenville sounds.

The legislation comes out of a dispute over shellfish leases that were granted by Division of Marine Fisheries in the Masonboro Island Nature Reserve, but were later ruled in violation of the state’s Nature Preserves Act, which bans commercial operations in reserve waters.

About the Author

Kirk Ross

Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist based in the Triangle. In addition to Coastal Review Online, he covers the legislature and state government for Carolina Public Press and The Washington Post. He can be reached at kirkrossreport@gmail.com.