MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina is joining a national effort that focuses on the importance of shellfish to the environment and economy.

North Carolina Sea Grant said in a news release that the state's participation will be made official Thursday. The secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality, Michael Regan, will announce the move then at the North Carolina Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City.

The state initiative is based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's nationwide program designed to increase shellfish populations in coastal waters. The state plan has four major goals: job creation, protection of water quality, protection of shellfish health and sustainable management.

North Carolina is the sixth state in the country and the first in the Southeast to follow the federal model.