Heavy summer rains wipe out Beaufort oysters
BEAUFORT — November has an “R” in it, so that means oyster season. But there are precious few to be had in Beaufort County this year because of last summer’s heavy rain.
Lee Taylor, a commercial shellfish coordinator with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, told the Beaufort Gazette that reports from oyster harvesters indicate between 75 percent and 90 percent of the county’s oysters have been wiped out.
The summer’s heavy rain flushed so much fresh water into area waterways that salinity levels were reduced, affecting the oyster crop.
Craig Reaves, owner of Sea Eagle Market in Beaufort, said that along the banks of the Broad River, 80 percent to 90 percent of the oysters are dead.
“Everywhere you look it’s just dead oysters,” Reaves said. “Everything in that area is wiped out.”
He said that in areas where oyster harvesters once would pick 1,000 oysters a day, this year they are getting only about 100 living oysters.
“It was during the summer that we had so much rain that our salinities got very out of whack,” he said. “But I’ve never seen so much rain that it would affect the oysters.”
Oysterman Jon Dusenberry said that between 75 percent and 90 percent of the oysters in an area near the Coosaw River are dead. In the past, he was able to supply eight restaurants in Myrtle Beach with oysters, but this season has had to cut back to supplying only three.
“That’s the first that’s happened to me in this area,” he said. “It’s kind of wiped us all out right here.”
Taylor said he has also heard from fishermen in one area near Charleston, but that die-off is not as large as in Beaufort County.
Although rainfall now is at normal levels, enough rain fell in a short enough span of time during the summer to affect the salinity levels, Taylor said.
“We haven’t done an extensive survey yet, but there’s really not a whole lot we can do about it,” he said. “We can’t increase salinity.”