Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Slow Struggle to Bring Back the Oyster

Down the New Jersey coast to Cape May and into the Delaware Bay scientists and businesses are attempting to bring back the commercial harvesting of shellfish. Oysters have been a hot topic in many of our regions waterbodies including the Raritan Bay and in several places in Long Island. This article by the NY Times discusses oyster aquaculture in the region. JB

THE cold, gray bay washes over the tiny oyster seeds nestled in plastic mesh bags. These baby oysters, cultivated by hand on a sandbar north of Cape May, may hold the future for a New Jersey industry that once flourished but is now gasping for breath.

A handful of aquaculturists - or fish farmers - are trying to grow a new generation of oysters in this largely barren stretch on Delaware Bay just north of Cape May - bred to be disease-resistant, spawned in temperature-regulated tanks and nursed on home-grown plankton.

"It's a lot of hard work," says Everett Marino, 66, who drives an hour each way, two to three times a week, to tend - knee-deep in the tide - his muddy crop of 200,000 to 300,000 oysters.

A century ago, New Jersey's oyster business was in its prime. From 1880 to 1930, 1 million to 2 million bushels of oysters a year were harvested from beds in the lower part of Delaware Bay. (Each bushel contains about 285 oysters.) This year, the oystermen will be limited to a total of 26,203 bushels. In 1881, 675 oyster boats plied these waters. Today, 74 boats are licensed to take oysters in the state.


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