Restoration, Awareness the Benefits of Long Beach Township Oyster Recycling Program

Oct 11, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

As Dale Parsons explains it, the Long Beach Township Oyster Recycling Program not only “adds a biological benefit to the bay” by providing the shells needed for oyster restoration, but also helps raise environmental awareness locally. “It’s a key component in getting the public back in touch with the bay,” noted the fifth generation owner of Parsons Seafood in Tuckerton.

The once-thriving oyster industry was, over time, harmed by declining water quality, and overharvesting and shellfish disease. Oyster farming, though, is now making a comeback – “it’s an oyster renaissance,” said Parsons – steered by civic determination.

This community project, begun this summer and led by the township, Parsons, Stockton University, Jetty and its Jetty Rock Foundation, involves a partnership with area restaurants to gather empty oyster shells to cure and subsequently use to raise more oysters in a reef in Barnegat Bay. The initiative contributes to a restoration effort begun by Parsons; Stockton’s Marine Field Station, managed by Steve Evert; and the American Littoral Society, funded by a grant from the Barnegat Bay Partnership.

The larval oysters – spat – require a hard shell on which to grow; this is what the recycling initiative provides. “The recycling program provides the much-needed shells the spat will cling to,” township Mayor Joseph Mancini explained earlier this summer. The municipality picks up the shells from participating restaurants and takes them to Parsons or Stockton, where the shells have to cure for six months, and are then set with the larvae in the Parsons mariculture tanks before Stockton vessels will deploy them onto the reef site and monitor the growth and survivorability.

“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,” the mayor remarked.

“The program is in its infancy and doing great,” he added. “Next year it will be even better, with even more restaurants involved.”

This summer, the township picked up shells three times a week from eight restaurants, then scaled down to two pickups a week after Labor Day. As of earlier this month, approximately 500 bushels of shell had been collected since the pickups started June 30, according to township Sustainability Coordinator Angela Andersen.

Parsons said he’ll need between 1,200 and 1,400 bushels of shell when he sets the first cohort at the reef. In addition to the shells collected by the township, he is curing shells from his business, and, in addition, will likely add some whelk shells to make up the difference and “to add a three-dimensional value to the reef.”

The bayman hopes, now that the program is up and running, that the result is more restaurants join in, and more and more shells are collected to aid the restoration effort. “The more shell we have, the more we can do.

“Every shell counts.”

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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