Great Bay Oyster Reef Restoration Site to Close to Shellfishing

DURHAM, NH — A five-acre area of Great Bay where The Nature Conservancy is conducting an oyster reef restoration program will be closed to shellfish harvest (clam, oyster, and other bivalve mollusk) for five years beginning November 1, 2016, through October 31, 2021.

State law (RSA 211:63-b) gives the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department the authority to “order a closing of clam, oyster, and other bivalve areas for the purpose of restoration of the area, provided that the closure will not unduly interfere with existing or anticipated commercial or recreational activities.” Such a closure “shall continue in effect for a period of not more than 5 years.”

At a public hearing held on the request in October of 2016, the public expressed general support for the closure, and there was agreement that the closure will aid in the restoration project. One written comment supporting the closure was also received.

The five-acre restoration site is located between the Nannies Island and Woodman Point oyster beds. The restoration site shown in the map is bounded by the coordinates at the four corners described in the petition document.

Only the five-acre restoration site shown on the map is being closed to shellfish harvest. The existing Nannies Island and Woodman Point oyster beds will remain open to recreational oyster harvesters.

The four corners of the restoration area will be marked each year from April through November during the entire closure period, with orange floats containing the words “Oyster Restoration Site”.

The restoration project got underway in July of 2016, when the NH Department of Environmental Services issued a permit to The Nature Conservancy to begin construction of an oyster reef by placing 500 cubic yards of seasoned surf clam shell in piles across the project area. The shell material was physically placed during the summer of 2016, and in early October more than one million oyster spat (newly spawned oysters) on shell were placed in the restoration area to seed the growth of oysters at the site. It is anticipated that the reef will also provide suitable structure for natural spat set originating from spawning oysters on the adjacent existing oyster reefs. The Nature Conservancy requested that the closure be in effect for five years to increase the likelihood of successful establishment of an oyster population at the site.

Since the existing oyster beds around the restoration area will remain open to shellfish harvest, this closure should not impact current recreational activities in the area. In addition, commercial activities will not be impacted, since oysters and soft shell clams taken in NH state waters may not be sold. Recreational boating interests will not be affected, since there will be sufficient water above the beds at all tides to permit movement of such vessels over the closure area.

The Nature Conservancy will provide the Fish and Game Department with annual reports on the progress of the project, together with an evaluation of its success and recommendations, if any, for additional restoration activities within the Great Bay Estuary.