REMOVAL OF OYSTERS HELPS SAFEGUARD PUBLIC HEALTH
AND NEW JERSEY’S SHELLFISH INDUSTRY
(10/P77) TRENTON - The NY/NJ Baykeeper today complied with the state’s ban on research-related gardening of commercially viable oysters in contaminated waters by removing its oysters from New York Harbor. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said that action helps meet two key goals: safeguarding public health and protecting the health and viability of the State’s $790 million-a-year shellfish industry.
“There is a lot at stake here,’’ said Commissioner Martin. “We have an obligation to safeguard the public health and ensure that no contaminated oysters or clams get into the public food supply. We also don’t want to jeopardize an entire, nationally recognized industry that has great economic value to this state by allowing the Baykeeper to continue operating its research project with commercial oysters in tainted waters.’’
“If someone were to get sick from eating shellfish from contaminated waters, there’s a risk people might stop buying or eating New Jersey grown shellfish.’’
The shellfish industry includes many small businesses that employ many hundreds of state residents, providing incomes for thousands of people and creating needed tax revenues for New Jersey, the Commissioner said.
While the Department offered an alternative location for the Baykeeper’s oyster research project _ which could have provided a temporary home for the group’s valuable research effort _ the Baykeeper declined that offer.
The federal Food and Drug Administration put New Jersey on notice this spring, warning the state was not complying with patrol mandates to adequately safeguard shellfish growing areas, leaving some contaminated waters open to poaching and its potential health risks. The FDA threatened federal sanctions and/or a shut-down of the shellfish industry. As a result, Commissioner Martin in June ordered all research-related commercial species of shellfish be removed from contaminated waters.
At the same time, the DEP has put together an adequate patrol force to provide required safeguards in approved shellfish growing areas to comply with FDA patrol requirements this season.
Commissioner Martin stressed the DEP sought the Baykeeper’s cooperation and offered to have his Department work with the group to find acceptable waters for its work, while also suggesting the use of non-commercial species of shellfish in its research.
A location at Maurice River Cove in the Delaware Bay was identified as a potential alternate site for the Baykeeper’s oysters, offering the type of water needed for its research, and in an area with adequate patrols to meet FDA requirements. In addition, the DEP is prepared to work with school groups that operate educational programs under the Baykeeper’s umbrella to help them switch to non-commercial species of shellfish for their valuable education projects.
“We sought to work in a spirit of cooperation with the Baykeeper,’’ said Commissioner Martin. “But they left us no choice but to issue a legal notice of violation to force removal of their shellfish from contaminated waters.’’
Most growers of shellfish in tainted or seasonally approved waters are environmental organizations, which are involved in legitimate scientific and educational efforts. A variety of commercial shellfish, including oysters, hard clams and blue mussels, are grown for study purposes. However, poachers could target those locations and steal the shellfish, which then could be sold to consumers.
The DEP makes about 60 arrests annually of illegal harvesters or poachers in restricted waters, primarily in the New York/New Jersey Harbor and Raritan Bay. A recent DEP inspection of the Baykeeper's oyster project in waters at Keyport Harbor found at least 20 percent of its oysters at or near market size, and not protected from poaching. They were being grown in restricted waters, jeopardizing the state's rating with FDA.