Bayshore residents love oysters! They don't just love eating them (imported of course!); they love the hope that oysters represent. The hope that oysters can help filter from our waters the damage caused by hundreds of years of industrial pollution compounded by the raw sewage that continues to flow into our waterways. Oysters allow us to dare to dream of a healthy, vibrant, thriving ecosystem in New Jersey's rivers and bays.
Kids and adults alike enjoy working with oysters -- measuring them to see how much they have grown and counting them to see how many have survived the winter. Everywhere Baykeeper goes, people want to talk to us about oysters and find out when they are coming back. But do you know who won't talk to us about oysters? The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP). And as long as they won't talk to us, the oysters are not coming back.
Oyster reefs are gone from the Hudson-Raritan Estuary (HRE), and with them their numerous water quality and habitat benefits. Oysters enhance subtidal habitat by filtering high volumes of particles from the water column and provide feeding, breeding, and nursery habitat for multiple marine species and shorebirds. Oyster reefs also provide shoreline protection from storms.
In an effort to restore the oyster, Baykeeper conducted oyster-related research for ten years, and received annual permits from NJ DEP to do so. Just as our work was just beginning to yield important information on the feasibility of oyster survival and restoration in the HRE, NJDEP pulled the plug. In August 2010, NJ DEP banned research, restoration, and education projects that use oysters in waters classified as "Restricted" or "Prohibited" for shellfish which is the majority of of the HRE. Since implementing the ban, NJ DEP has done nothing to improve water quality in the HRE or to facilitate oyster research, restoration or education projects. Thanks to Navy leadership, we have a small research project at Naval Weapons Station Earle but NJ DEP almost blocked that.
NJ DEP should not only be allowing these important projects to move forward, they should be supporting them. Hundreds of students, Scout troops, senior citizen clubs, and others are anxiously waiting to get back to oyster gardening to do their part to clean the water. We await NJ DEP's leadership. http://www.change.org/petitions/state-of-new-jersey-lift-the-ban-on-oyster-restoration-research-and-education-projects