Tuckerton Leader

Stockton University Aids Oyster Farmers in Finding Lost Buoys, Cages

Snared By Bay Ice, Moved Half Mile in Thaw
Mar 02, 2018
Courtesy of: Stockton University Marine Field Station

The area’s harsh January freeze caused major coastal bay icing, resulting in numerous oyster farmers being caught off guard and unable to secure their cages. In Ocean County, the ice moved an estimated 75 oyster cages off two areas in Little Egg Harbor Bay.

On Feb. 18, the Marine Field Station of Stockton University coordinated the rescue of neary 50 of these 4-by-3-by-2-foot cages that were originally placed underwater off the Parkertown section of Little Egg Harbor Township.

Using a side scan sonar, Stockton was able to identify the location of 67 displaced oyster cages, in addition to more than 150 crab pots, during a one-day survey on Feb. 6 funded during a NOAA-funded survey, a Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project that Stockton is hired to work on.

Steve Evert, manager of the marine station, said the oyster cages are attached to buoys. During the deep freeze, when temperatures dropped to single digits over numerous nights, the buoys were stuck in the ice.

“But during the thaw, the bay ices move, and that resulted in many of these buoys, along with the oyster cages, getting moved and dragged about a half-mile away,” he said.

Evert said normally the buoys and cages are in shallow water.

“But they got moved to spots where the water is 8, 10 or 12 feet deep,” he said. “When it is that deep, the buoys get submerged.”

Evert said Stockton loaned the farmers the side scan sonar and showed them how to operate it. Then the farmers recovered the buoys, cages and gear with the help of various volunteers.

“The weather cooperated, so we were able to rescue most of the buoys and cages,” he said. “We’ll go out on another day and retrieve the rest.”

Brothers Matt and Scott Hender were two of the affected oyster farmers.

“We’ve been doing this for about four years, and we never had a deep freeze like that in the bay for quite a few years,” said Matt.

Last year, he estimated, they sold approximately 80,000 oysters.

“The cage enables us to grow around 1,200 market size oysters, which are about 3 inches long,” said Hender. “We’re very thankful for Stockton because without their help, we could have lost an awful lot.”

— Eric Englund


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