The trio on Thursday presented their research on oyster aquaculture, which is linked to two bills, to lawmakers during a meeting of the Joint Natural and Economic Resources Appropriations Committee.
Oyster aquaculture is the practice of farming oysters for human consumption. It involves cultivating oysters in plastic net bags supported on a rack where water can flow around them, allowing oysters to flourish in areas that might not be friendly to oyster populations.
Allen, a junior and one of six students who spent the fall at the Outer Banks, said they analyzed aquaculture by surveying, doing policy analysis and evaluating current practices.
The two bills moving through the legislature aim to expand these oyster hatcheries and make it easier for those looking to join the industry by cutting down on application and rental fees that are often barriers.
Meredith, a junior, said they were invited to N.C. General Assembly after giving a public presentation in December.
“I didn’t realize until I got there how big of a deal it was,” Meredith said. “At first, I thought it was just fun for college students and they were doing it as part of an outreach, but they really wanted our opinion and our research.”
Oysters have important ties to the culture and traditions of the Outer Banks, said Lindsay Dubbs, associate director of the Outer Banks Field Site.
“The issue is important right now because our oyster populations are at a historical low, and oysters are a very important part of the ecosystem,” she said.
“They’re important to the water quality, and they’re also organisms that people love to eat.”
Allen said he and the other students surveyed local businesses, finding that customers were more likely to pay more for oysters if they knew the oysters were local and knew the benefits they provide to the ecosystem.
They also found that the hatcheries improve water quality by filtering it, among other benefits, Allen said.
“Coastal pollution is moving at a rate that is not a safe rate,” Allen said. “Any way or form that we can address climate change, (we) want to mitigate as much as possible.”
Oyster aquaculture can also have significant economic benefits, which have been realized in other states, Allen said.
Meredith said states like Virginia have oyster industries that are making millions of dollars more in revenue than North Carolina’s industry.
Meredith said presenting the research at the legislature was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It’s something, especially as an undergraduate, you really don’t get to see and experience.”