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Bay oyster industry facing sunset
By RICHARD DEGENER Staff Writer, (609) 463-6711, E-Mail

LOWER TOWNSHIP - Where are the baby oysters?

It's not a rhetorical question to shellfishery scientists in New Jersey and Delaware. They really want an answer.

The Delaware Bay oyster industry, beset by a host of problems in recent decades from overharvesting to parasitic diseases such as MSX and Dermo, now has a bigger problem. It seems the bivalves, sometimes reputed to be an aphrodisiac, are not reproducing enough to replace the population.

The reproduction of oysters, called the recruitment rate, has fallen drastically below the mortality rate, and nobody knows why.

"We've had four straight years of the lowest recruitment in history. The abysmal recruitment will close the resource in the next several years unless there is a program," said Dr. Eric Powell, a Rutgers University scientist.

There is a plan, tested last summer on a small scale. The federal government and both states are putting together $2 million to try it on a larger scale. The idea is to create the optimum conditions for recruitment, and then the best conditions for the oysters to survive so they can make more oysters.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already agreed to pay 75 percent of the cost, or $1.5 million. Several other sponsors are involved including the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which has agreed to contribute as much as $150,000 after learning that a robust oyster industry could be worth $45 million per year to bayshore communities in both states. The DRBA funds economic development projects in Delaware and southern New Jersey.

"If the projected growth in the oyster population in the Delaware Bay is realized, the program could ultimately expand the economic base and employment opportunities for the coastal communities in both states," DRBA Executive Director Jim Johnson said.

Last summer's test suggests it could work. The test began by planting shells in the lower Delaware Bay off Middle Township, Cape May County. Oysters in the larval stage look for clean substrate, such as shells, to cling to. The idea is to provide that substrate in a high salinity area where oysters grow quickly. Once they get established on the shell piles and grow to a size of more than a half-millimeter, which takes about three months, the shell and spat will be moved to fresher waters north of Egg Island Point in Cumberland County, where there are fewer predators and oyster diseases.

"Growth is faster with more salinity, but disease is higher. The question is how far can we move them (north) to get good growth," said Jim Joseph, chief of the state Bureau of Shellfisheries.

The shell-moving regimen has been successful in the Chesapeake Bay, and last summer's test in the Delaware Bay showed it could work here. Merv Brokke, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said the agency's Norfolk and Baltimore districts have funded similar projects, but this is a first for the Philadelphia office.

"We look at this as very good for the economy and the region," Brokke said

Recruitment rates are based on how many spat, or young oysters, cling to a bushel of shell. The long-term recruitment average in the bay has been 100 spat per bushel of shell, but for the past four years it has hovered around 25 spat per bushel.

The test, where shell was planted just south of Bidwell's Creek and then moved north to a bay area called Bennie's Sand, produced readings as high as 6,000 spat per bushel of shell, Joseph said. The average level was 1,800 spat per bushel.

The test results are helping put a coalition together to do it on a much larger scale. The groups involved thus far include: Army Corps, DRBA, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Delaware Estuary Program, and the Delaware River Basin Commission.

While still in the planning stage, Powell hopes clean surf clam shells can be purchased by the end of this year. The shells would be taken to be Bivalve, Cumberland County, where they would be loaded onto barges for movement to the bay sometime in late June or early July 2005.

"We're going to dump tens of thousands of bushels of shells, maybe half a million, a year between the two states," Powell said.

Delaware is just placing shell on the bay bottom and will not move it. New Jersey will use a suction dredge to collect the shell sometime in September and move it up the bay where it can grow slower but safer for two to three years.

Powell admits there is some immediacy to the project. There has always been a Delaware Bay oyster industry. The American Indians harvested them. Dutch, Swedish and English colonists survived here in the New World partly because of oysters. Swedish settler Thomas Campanius Holm wrote about the bay oysters in 1642, and by 1730 Colonial sloops and schooners were already harvesting them commercially.

Now, after surviving centuries of overharvesting and battles with diseases, the bay oyster's future is in doubt. Powell said the latest assessment of stocks shows commercial harvesting may have to be halted in 2005 or 2006.

"This is a kind of last-ditch effort to save the oyster industry. Unless we increase the recruitment rate, we're going to have to shut down the fishery. We're basically going to lose the fishery, and eventually oysters," he said.
 

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I hope the commercial fishing industry reads this as well as the people who set regs for the rec boaters.
We all suffer when things are done wrong.
Take less today so there will be a tomorrow.
 

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They have the same problem in VA and MD . In Md they spend over 18 million a year on a industry that only produces 1.5 million .

The oysters have a type of bacteria in them that won't let them rejuvenate . They are currently trying to transplant oysters from Asia . These oysters are immune to this crazy bacteria.

The Commercial sector is working very hard to bring the oysters back .
 

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You hear things like this VX nerve agent dumping, warnings about eating 1 striper per year and then they want to harvest Oysters from it because its profitable? I don't know about you guys but even if they were successful I don't think I could bring myself to eat an oyster from that polluted toilet(the delaware river). I hope they are successful with it but I 'd like to see more $ spent on cleaning the pollution up.
 

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Originally posted by NIGHTSTRIKES:

The reproduction of oysters, called the recruitment rate, has fallen drastically below the mortality rate, and nobody knows why .

And untill we find out let's keep dumping s**T into the Bay and River.
 
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