KEYPORT, NJ - “Since 2010, when NJDEP forced us to destroy our oyster research projects and end our volunteer program, NJDEP has promised to work with us to find a reasonable path forward,” said Meredith Comi, Oyster Restoration Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper.  “Instead, NJDEP’s Shellfish Rules are unreasonable and still leaves thousands of acres of water prohibited for oyster research and restoration use. Additionally, the rules outline a ridiculous requirement that shellfish restoration reefs must be monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This essentially means that we are only able to conduct research and restoration activities in less than 1% of New Jersey waters in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary,” said Comi.

“NJDEP claims that it had to institute these strict measures for oyster research and restoration because the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) was threatening to shut down New Jersey’s commercial shellfish industry.  But that is simply not true.  For years, NJDEP has consistently underfunded its shellfish oversight program, resulting in impacts to not just us, but commercial interests as well.  NJDEP has tried to lay blame on our restoration activities, but this rulemaking and Administrative Order clearly demonstrate it is NJDEP’s lack of compliance on numerous FDA standards outside of research and restoration activities that has placed the industry at risk,” said Comi.

“Above all, it is most important that we achieve equality and fairness in all our state policies and regulations.  It is unreasonable that NJDEP is not holding public hearings for the rulemaking and we encourage the public to make their voice heard and submit comments electronically to http://www.nj.gov/dep/rules/comments/. All our communities deserve opportunities to have projects that create habitat, improve water quality, reduce storm impacts and assist with the prevention of shoreline erosion.  NJDEP has created a system that places the majority of our State’s population on a second tier when it comes to environmental protection,” said Debbie Mans, Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper.

“Going forward, we urge the NJ Assembly to support A3944 which would lift NJDEP’s ban on shellfish research, restoration, and education program,” said Mans.  “Lifting the ban on shellfish research will allow us to continue to collect valuable data to improve the health of the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary. Oysters have the unique capability to filter and clean our waters, prevent shoreline erosion, and provide habitats for other fish, but we need access to NJ waters to learn more.”  

Background:

Oysters once thrived in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary, but overharvesting, pollution and sedimentation of reefs resulted in a sharp population decline. There is no longer a sustainable oyster population in our area today. For over a decade NY/NJ Baykeeper has been the lead nonprofit organization conducting important oyster research in NY-NJ Harbor Estuary, partnering with Rutgers University in New Jersey and with nearly 20 different federal, state, city and nonprofit partners in New York.

Baykeeper had previously successfully managed two oyster reef projects in New Jersey - one in the Navesink River in Red Bank and the second in the Keyport Harbor. Unfortunately, both projects were shut down due to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's (NJDEP) decision in 2010 to ban research, restoration, and education projects using oysters in contaminated waters or waters classified as "Restricted" or "Prohibited" for shellfish harvest. DEP's reasoning behind the ban was to minimize the risks of illegally harvesting or poaching our shellfish. However, our projects weren’t visible to the public and not easily accessible to unlikely poaches. Our reefs were a few feet under water and weighed down in cages.

Despite offering several different solutions to NJDEP, including offering to install security cameras and assist NJDEP with patrolling, our research projects were destroyed
This underfunding has led to serious deficiencies in NJDEP’s program as identified by FDA, including:

•No permit for aquaculture activities in NJ
•National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) Model Ordinance not included in NJDEP rules
•Continued staffing issues will most likely result in NJDEP being out of compliance in patrol frequencies in the near future.

Since 1989, NY/NJ Baykeeper has been working to protect, preserve and restore the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary.