Oyster Recycling Program a Local Partnership of Ecology and Culture

Shellfish Restoration Seeing Success in Barnegat Bay
By JULIET KASZAS-HOCH | Jul 05, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Follow the oyster shells: From the bay to the plate and then back to the bay. Recycle and restore.

A community collective – driven by Long Beach Township, Parsons Seafood, Stockton University, Jetty and its Jetty Rock Foundation – is partnering with area restaurants to gather empty oyster shells from patrons to cure and subsequently use to raise more oysters in a reef in Barnegat Bay. The newly minted Long Beach Township Oyster Recycling Program contributes to a restoration effort begun by Dale Parsons, fifth generation owner of Parsons Seafood in Tuckerton; Stockton’s Marine Field Station, managed by Steve Evert; and the American Littoral Society, funded by a grant from the Barnegat Bay Partnership.

Last Friday and Saturday of the holiday weekend, the township collected a total of 33 bushels of shells from just three restaurants to use for this innovative project.

“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,” said Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini, who clammed from 14 to college-age.

As the mayor pointed out, “One adult oyster siphons 50 gallons a day. … This is an important initiative, and one I’ve been trying to do for a long time.” The municipality also plans to create a science education center in Holgate that will also serve as a launching point to visit the man-made oyster reefs.

The local oyster industry was booming 100 years ago, but was thereafter harmed by declining water quality, overharvesting and shellfish disease. Oyster farming, though, is now making a comeback, steered by civic determination.

Oyster restoration comprises the creation of reefs with oyster shells first set with larval oysters in hatcheries. The baby oysters, called spat, require a hard shell on which to grow; this is what the recycling program provides.

“The recycling program provides the much-needed shells the spat will cling to,” Mancini noted. The township picks up the shells from participating restaurants and takes them to Parsons or Stockton, where “the shells have to cure for six months to be clear of bacteria that could harm the baby oysters,” and are then set with the larvae in the Parsons mariculture tanks before Stockton vessels deploy them onto the reef site and monitor the growth and survivorability.

“No one has done this before in the southern Barnegat Bay watershed,” Evert noted.

“This is a kind of a tragedy that Barnegat Bay went so long without help. This project should have happened 40 years ago,” said Parsons. Along with political and regulation roadblocks, “the number one issue this didn’t happen earlier is that there is more money to be made exploiting the bay than embracing it.”

He added, “The neighborhoods, the roads, the bridge – they’re all here because of the natural resources,” and the natural resources must be protected.

Parsons Mariculture Center, Stockton’s Marine Field Station and the Littoral Society received the shellfish science competitive grant in 2015 to fund oyster restoration work in the southern Barnegat Bay watershed, with guidance from the bay. “We have to allow the bay to tell us what we’re doing,” Parsons remarked.

Parsons is the bayman and aquaculture side of the project, said Evert, while Stockton is the science and monitoring, and provides the boats to transport the young oysters to the research site. “Dr. Christine Thompson, the students, and I are doing the monitoring,” he specified. “Stockton’s role will be to continue to monitor this on a long-term basis. So far things are going really well, with impressive growth and survivorship.”

Evert is very happy with the site selection, which Parsons said he chose while one day riding around the bay in a boat with clam tongs. Their efforts are funded by the BBP grant until the end of this year, but they aim to continue the project with community investment, and to apply for bigger level funding later on.

The idea for the shell recycling program was sparked by the success of the research site, and discussion about the need for community education and outreach.

As Jetty’s Jeremy DeFilippis explained, following Superstorm Sandy the company “started talking about connecting our charitable efforts with our Jetty Rock Foundation to Jetty’s brand story. We had always considered charity and community large pieces of our DNA. ... Our definition of community changes based on our initiatives, but at the end of the day we just believe in doing good and giving back.

“It turns out that the bay is what brought the population to the coast as it was rich with life, but now there were only a handful of baymen transplanting oysters into it,” DeFilippis added. After learning about the man-made oyster reef, which could help improve the health of the bay, “Bam, it  hit us. ... The water is our ultimate connection, and if we can support an initiative that helps to maintain its purity, then we our doing our duty to insure that we can all pursue our passions on it, in it and over it.

“Putting shells back into the water to create habitat and sustain oyster growth is something going on around the world, and oyster reefs and populations are basically gone, so this is a program that we can truly get behind, grow, help spread awareness about and inspire others to participate in.”

Parsons gave a great deal of credit to Mancini and the township for their willingness to tackle the logistics of picking up and transporting the shells from the participating restaurants.

For the municipality, the project has the additional perk of taking unused food out of the waste stream and repurposing it.

The restaurants are happy to be involved as well.

“Old Causeway and our family of restaurants are thrilled this effort is coming to life on LBI and the surrounding areas,” said restaurant owner Melanie Magaziner. “While we started oyster shell recycling in 2015, with the help of the Littoral Society, we were just scratching the surface of what we can accomplish. No doubt, with Jetty Rock Foundation heading up the fundraising, Long Beach Township logistics and Stockton and Dale Parsons’ incredible knowledge, this program will be a success.”

Richard Vaughan, owner of Bistro 16 in Beach Haven, follows the Oyster Recovery Program and the Billion Oyster Project on Instagram. “When you see the huge piles of recycled shells getting moved around with backhoes and bulldozers, you can begin to appreciate how much bounty we reap from our estuaries and how much we can try to give back. It costs us nothing and it helps replenish a resource that our community needs to thrive.

“We’re excited to watch the shell piles grow!”

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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