Commentary

Barnegat Bay Oysters Take a Bite of the Big Apple

By RICHARD DODD | Sep 27, 2017
Photo by: Richard Dodd Barnegat Bay oysters take on NYC at the New York Harbor Regatta and Bash on Sept. 15.

Barnegat Bay oysters invaded the Big Apple on Sept. 15 in a charitable event dedicated to restoring New York Harbor.

This seventh annual New York Harbor Regatta and Bash was organized by the Billion Oyster Project, an environmental and educational organization dedicated to placing a billion oysters in New York Harbor by 2035 in the form of sustainable oyster reefs. The intended outcome will be for the harbor to recycle itself with clean, filtered water every 72 hours. Oysters are environmental superheroes.

This ambitious goal requires money, lots of it, to support the Harbor School on Governors Island and community outreach programs. Voila! BOP has harnessed the environmental awareness and goodwill of the New York area to raise money in the form of mega-parties featuring locally farmed oysters, craft beer and fine wine. On the oyster front, the Barnegat Bay Collective, our amazing entrepreneurs harvesting bounty from our beautiful waters off LBI, were event royalty.

I am passionate about oysters. My love for these precious bivalves included completing a certification program for Master Shellfish Gardening offered by Rutgers University as part of the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program and ReClam the Bay. I am also a founding member of the Billion Oyster Project and volunteer my time to support its initiatives on Governors Island.

Recently I was asked by Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini to assist in township programs to restore Barnegat Bay and raise awareness and money to expand our oyster reefs, such as the Tuckerton Reef.

Back to the event.

I walked over to the Barnegat Bay Collective booth, which had colorful signage on its truck, shirts made by Jetty and hand-marked wooden stakes. Expansive beds of ice held perfectly formed oysters from specific growing areas such as Rose Cove, High Bar Harbor and Barnegat Light. The flavor profile of these shellfish was based on the water, or merroir, in which they live. Similar to wine and terroir (soil), the salt and mineral content of the water creates mild or briny tasting delights.

I ordered a dozen mixed oysters from lower salinity waters off Tuckerton to higher salinity farms near Barnegat Inlet and Old Barney. Delicious! The High Bar Harbor delicacies were my favorite. “More, please,” I requested, only to be pointed to the back of a growing line. The wait would be worth it!

In my travels I’ve met with the owner of the Oyster House in Philadelphia, Sam Mink. Sam’s oyster bar and restaurant is a featured Philadelphia destination for oyster lovers. He shared with me that his favorite oysters come from Barnegat Bay and his restaurant staff has visited Forty North Oysters to experience the aquafarm-to-table world that supports a growing part of his business. His only disappointment was that he couldn’t get enough Barnegat Bay oysters to support growing demand.

I departed Governors Island that evening knowing that the sold-out event with 600 attendees paying $150 each was an investment in something worthwhile. It was also a coming-out party for our growing shellfish farming industry in Barnegat Bay. In the words of the owner of Philly Oyster House, “Barnegat Bay oysters are my favorite. I can’t get enough of them!”

I concur and look forward to enjoying the fruit from our waters at local restaurants such as the Delaware Avenue Oyster House, Triton Oyster Bar, Tuckers, Parkers Garage, Bistro 14, The Arlington and the Old Causeway. Perhaps in the future we will host a Long Beach Island Oyster Festival to celebrate the oyster renaissance taking place in our waters.

Richard Dodd lives in Beach Haven Gardens.

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