New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection has declared an “oyster war” on the N.Y./N.J. Baykeeper, an environmental organization, to divert attention from a charge by the U.S. Food and Drug Agency that it is not policing the state’s shellfish industry. Stung by the feds, the state clumsily ordered Baykeeper not only to cease its 10-year-old oyster restoration program in polluted Raritan Bay and Navesink River, but to even remove its 50,000 oysters!
The state claimed that as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill contaminates oyster beds, poachers may endanger public health by taking oysters from less-polluted waters, such as the Raritan and Navesink. But the feds, in a 2009 report, said the state has been lax in inspecting the industry, period.
Two questions arise: “Why are New Jersey’s waters still polluted 38 years after the federal Clean Water Act of 1972?” But I digress. The other: “If oysters pose a health threat, don’t mussels and clams pose similar threats?” All shellfish filter water to take in nutrients – oysters filter 50 gallons daily. In polluted waters, bacteria and other toxins can build up in shellfish, threatening any wildlife or humans that eat them. The “oyster war” is simply illogical – no surprise there – since the more plentiful clams (as in casino) and mussels (as in marinara) pose bigger threats than oysters.
The state says it has only 10 inspectors and can’t patrol for poachers on both commercial beds and restoration beds (each inspector annually averages about 6 arrests, a record any self-respecting traffic cop would scorn). Eliminating Baykeeper’s two oyster beds still leaves the health threats from clams and mussels. After all, I see people at Sandy Hook digging up clams every day. And we still have DEP dragging its feet in policing the industry
Since shellfish health problems are serious, let common sense reign. Hire a few seasonal “clam cops” to augment shellfish patrols. The resulting fines might even pay their salaries. Then the state could drop its ludicrous sideshow of slamming Baykeeper and focus on the primary problem – our still-polluted rivers.