Some North Carolina seafood unsafe to eat after Hurricane Florence

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Some seafood caught in North Carolina may not be safe to eat in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

Florence made landfall in Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14. It was a Category 1 storm at landfall, and the storm moved extremely slowly–dumping dozens of inches of rain on many parts of North Carolina.

Florence dumped 8 trillion gallons of water on North Carolina. That’s enough to fill Falls Lake more than 70 times.

The influx of water turned creeks and streams into whitewater rapids that picked up everything in their paths.

The polluted runoff spilled into the Cape Fear River and Neuse River, then into the Pamlico Sound, and finally into the Atlantic Ocean.

The runoff forced North Carolina’s Department of Marine Fisheries to order a blanket ban on harvesting any shellfish off the coast. Months after the storm, miles of coastline remain off limits.

Wildlife most vulnerable to the pollution are filter feeders like clams, mussels and oysters.

To see an interactive map of temporary closures listed by county click here.

Those three shellfish happen to be winter favorites in North Carolina kitchens.

“There’s all kinds of bacteria and viruses that can be harmful to humans: Salmonella, norovirus, just to name a couple,” Shannon Jenkins with N.C. Department of Marine Fisheries said. “If humans then consume that shellfish, that certainly can cause illness…It could be life-threatening depending on the individual.”

Here are some tips for cooking oysters and clams

North Carolina’s ocean economy accounts for nearly $4 billion–that includes commercial and recreational fishing.

Health and safety are two critical issues, but here’s another problem Florence created: There’s nowhere to process the seafood that’s caught.

North Carolina fishermen lost their storage and freezing units in the storm.

Keith Bruno owns Endurance Seafood in Oriental, North Carolina. His company provided freshly caught North Carolina seafood to markets and restaurants in the Triangle and beyond–that is until Florence struck.

“Before you get fish in the restaurant or supermarket, it comes here first. This was stage one,” Bruno said. “This goes all the way to Asheville. If we can’t catch it, they can’t eat it.”

Bruno wants to rebuild, but he said it could take years for his company to get back up and running.

Consumers can of course still buy seafood from other states, but North Carolina officials hope the remaining pollution in the water quickly dilutes and dissipates.

Reopening harvest waters soon is a balance between ensuring the health and safety of the general public and breathing life back into one of the state’s vital economic engines.

The good news is popular catches like drum and flounder remain safe to eat.

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