Oyster Recycling Program Ready for Summer Season

May 16, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Last Monday, the Oyster Recycling Program truck left Long Beach Township and visited a dozen local restaurants to pick up oyster shells the establishments collect following their customers’ meals. The day’s tally was 21 baskets, said Angela Andersen, township sustainability coordinator. Soon, pickup will increase to three days a week, as area businesses shift into high gear for summer.

The program, a community collective driven by LBT, Parsons Seafood, Stockton University, Jetty and its Jetty Rock Foundation, involves gathering empty oyster shells from the partner restaurants for use to raise more oysters in Barnegat Bay. Oyster restoration comprises the creation of reefs with oyster shells set with larvae. The baby oysters – spat – require a hard shell on which to grow; this is what the recycling initiative provides.

Long Beach Township picks up empty shells – stored in green, bushel-size fish baskets, provided by the program – from the participating businesses, and takes them to Parsons or Stockton, where they cure for six months. They are then set with spat in the Parsons mariculture tanks before Stockton vessels deploy them onto the reef site and monitor the growth and survivorability.

As Jetty explains on jettylife.com/pages/jetty-oyster-recycling-program, funding from the Barnegat Bay Partnership “established the Tuckerton Reef in 2016 with aquaculture-set oyster spat on whelk shell and transplanted seed from the Mullica River. The two-acre research site is located in the Middle Grounds area of Little Egg Harbor Bay, with initial and future aquaculture work done by Parsons and the scientific monitoring by Stockton.”

According to Steve Evert, who manages Stockton’s Marine Field Station, the research reef looks good; the results so far are on par with similar survivorship studies done in the Chesapeake Bay, with the best results from spat remotely set on shell in on-shore tanks with a disease-resistant strain from Rutgers Aquaculture Innovation Center (versus the oyster seed transplanted from natural beds in the Mullica River).

The area’s oyster industry was thriving a century ago, but, as a BBP blog post notes at barnegatbaypartnership.org, “Years of pollution, development, overfishing and diseases have reduced oyster populations drastically in the bay. That’s unfortunate, since oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of bay water a day and create three-dimensional habitat for fish and other invertebrates.”

“We really have to get our oyster reefs and clam beds back to where they were, for two reasons: It keeps the water clean, and it’s part of the heritage of Barnegat Bay,” township Mayor Joseph Mancini said when the shell recycling program began.

Today, fortunately, oyster farming is making a comeback, with benefit to the bay – to its cleanliness and biodiversity – as well as to the local economy, and to diners, who are now able to enjoy more-plentiful oysters from various nearby farms, with each type of oyster offering its own unique taste.

“People can help the bay just by eating shellfish: from the raw bar to the reef,” said Andersen. “Local sustainable seafood is becoming an abundant option for diners.”

Local restaurants are now readying for the busy season, which means more oysters eaten and more shells to collect. Current partners include: Ship Bottom Shellfish; The Arlington, in Ship Bottom; Howard’s Restaurant in Beach Haven Gardens; Delaware Oyster House in Beach Haven Terrace; Blue Water Café in Haven Beach; Stefano’s in North Beach Haven; Bistro 14, Parker’s Garage, The Black Whale, Tuckers Tavern and Triton in Beach Haven; The Old Causeway and Mud City Crab House in Manahawkin; and, beginning Memorial Day, Boulevard Clams in Surf City.

“This is the first full season” for the Oyster Recycling Program, said Andersen. “We tried it out beginning last year, and it’s been really successful. A thousand baskets covers an approximately one-acre reef area, and we were just under that last year: We had about 800 baskets. We definitely have a goal of well exceeding that number this year.

“Without leadership in your government or agency, this kind of thing doesn’t happen,” she added, crediting township officials for getting behind the project. “We are extremely fortunate that Long Beach Township understands that the time and energy invested is for the betterment of the bay.”

On June 2, Oyster Recycling Program representatives, and the shell pick-up truck, will be at Hopsauce in Beach Haven.

And on Oct. 6, the weekend of the LBI Kite Festival, Long Beach Township is hosting an Oyster Shellabration outside town hall and in Bayview Park in Brant Beach.

For more information on the Oyster Recycling Program, visit followtheshell on Instagram and Twitter, or jettylife.com/pages/jetty-oyster-recycling-program, or look for information about #followtheshell at the participating restaurants.

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch


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