This paper is a case study of the interrelationship between public policy and species decline in the oyster industry of Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, in the late 19th century, with some attention paid to the first decade of the 20th century. It examines the nature of the many regulatory shifts that occurred at the hands of the state legislature in the period, and it offers explanation for why these policies were ultimately less than successful at protecting and expanding the commercial viability of oystering. Tensions between smaller, local oystermen and outsiders from the Chesapeake Bay played a role, as did the influence of civic leadership in coastal communities hoping to ride the crest of economic development they hoped oysters would bring to the region. The oystermen themselves, in addition, were invited into the regulatory process rather late in the period and therefore were not inclined to work as partners with the state in efforts to preserve and restore oyster numbers. In large measure, however, the state of North Carolina sealed the fate of the oyster by responding with short-term view in its many regulatory revisions, rather than adopting a long-range mentality that might have resulted in greater stability of the species and of the coastal economy.
Keywords: oysters, Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, shellfish
Carter, K.S. The More Things Change...: Oysters, Public Policy, and Species Decline in the Pamlico Sound, 1880-1900. In: Microbehavior and Macroresults: Proceedings of the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade, July 10-14, 2000, Corvallis, Oregon, USA. Compiled by Richard S. Johnston and Ann L. Shriver. International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade (IIFET), Corvallis, 2001.