Of the waters closed in Onslow County, the majority are in the Swansboro area with 93 additional acres of Queens Creek now off limits to shellfish harvesting.
SWANSBORO| Nearly 1,000 acres of waters off Onslow and Carteret County are among the North Carolina coastal waters that have been closed indefinitely to shellfishing after water quality testing over an extended period showed they failed to meet required bacteriological standards.
The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries announced the March 1 closing of 2,450 acres of coastal waters to shellfish harvesting, including 134 total acres in Onslow County and about 830 acres in Carteret County.
Of the waters closed in Onslow County, the majority are in the Swansboro area with 93 additional acres of Queens Creek now off-limits to shellfish harvesting.
“I’m sorry to see it, but it is not unusual,” said Swansboro town Commissioner Frank Tursi, who has written about environmental issues as a journalist and recently retired from duties with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “At least now we have a plan in place to try to prevent it.”
Coincidentally, the news of the closures came Tuesday as the town’s Board of Commissioners approved its first Watershed Restoration Plan, a plan designed to address water pollution from stormwater runoff and provide long-term strategies for reducing the pollutants entering area waterways.
Tursi said stormwater runoff — the rainwater that picks up animal waste, motor oils, fertilizers and other pollutants as it pours of rooftops and crosses streets and driveways before entering the local waterways — is the primary contributor to the water closures.
And stormwater polluting local waterways is a problem that needs to be addressed locally.
“Stormwater is a local problem. The stormwater runoff was put there in Swansboro and was not created in Jones County or somewhere else. We have a responsibility to do something,” Tursi said.
The watershed plan presents a number of ways the town can reduce runoff on public property, as well as options homeowners can try on their property.
Swansboro Mayor Scott Chadwick said many of the ideas, like rain gardens and relatively simple retrofits to divert polluted runoff away from the waterways, are relatively inexpensive and potential projects for the town to consider.
The town could also host demonstrations and show others what projects they can try.
“We have to lead by example,” Chadwick said.
The town’s plan now goes to state and federal agencies for approval. Once the plan receives final approval the town will be eligible for grants for projects to address water pollution for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The shellfish harvesting closures were based on water quality samples tested for the past five years for required sanitary surveys and annual reviews of the state’s shellfish growing areas. Three of the past five years saw above average rainfall that causes the harmful stormwater runoff.
The Division of Marine Fisheries will continue to monitor these areas; and if conditions change, they could reopen in the future.
In addition to the closures, 50 acres in the Stump Sound area of Pender County that was closed to shellfish harvest last has been reopened after 2016 sampling showed improved water quality.