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Article published Jul 25, 2006
Oyster bed restoration continues
By MILES JACKSON
Staff Writer
[email protected]
COMMERCIAL -- The streets of the Delaware Bay community of Port Norris once were lined with the prosperous homes of oyster boat captains, who literally scraped a fortune off the bottom of the bay's shallow waters.
The Delaware Bay oyster was known far and wide during the fishery's heyday in the late 19th century and up until the mid- and late 20th century, when disease and parasites all but killed the industry.
Although efforts to restore the beds are as old as the diseases themselves, it hasn't been until the last few years that fisherman and government officials were ready to talk about a possible recovery of the industry.
"The healing is still under way," said U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo, R-2, who helped secure $2..3 million for the project that helped start the restoration process in the bay's oyster beds.
"But we're helping to bring back this area as the pinnacle of the oyster world," the congressman added.
The solution has been multifaceted, including developing an oyster resistant to the diseases.
But one area that LoBiondo and state Assemblyman Douglas Fisher, D-3, have promoted was simply the creation of clean beds where young oysters could safely grow.
On Monday, local, state and federal officials celebrated the first anniversary of a program to create new planting beds for young oysters by dumping large quantities of fresh, clean oyster shell on targeted spots on the bay's bottom.
The program was part of an effort by researchers at Rutgers University's Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory at the mouth of the Maurice River.
The new beds provide oyster larvae with a clean home where they can attach themselves and increase the amount of mature oysters harvested by the end of the decade, according to Eric Powell, director of the Rutgers facility.
"The 2005 shell planting program could double the oyster harvest in the 2008/2009 time frame," Powell said.
On Monday more shiploads of fresh shell were dumped into the bay, providing more beds for propagation of oysters and the growth of an industry important to the region for so many reasons, Fisher said.
Because oysters filter water, they help clean the bay as well as provide a livelihood for area watermen, Fisher said.
"This is part of the economic and environmental health of the region," Fisher said. "And it's also important to the cultural heritage of an area, where watermen have struggled to make a living off of the bay for many decades."
Because fresher water provides a haven from parasites and diseases, young oysters are seeded in the bay's northern areas.
After a year or two, the oysters are scraped off the bottom and set downstream in saltier waters where they gain size and flavor.
Unfortunately, the downstream beds also are home to the diseases and parasites that cause problems for the oysters.
Since the late 1990s, oysters were harvested directly from upstream beds, keeping the industry alive by providing healthy oysters for harvest, according to experts from the Haskin lab.
The shell program provides clean beds uncontaminated by disease in other parts of the bay for a healthier oyster and a more viable industry, said Art Brown, a former state secretary of agriculture.
Harvests still are far below what was taken from the bay 75 years ago, but the quantity and quality of oysters is on the upswing, said Brown, who was instrumental in starting the concept of aquaculture, or commercial planting and harvesting of marine species.
"It's going to be a long road,' Brown said. "But with the research done by Rutgers and the hard work of so many people involved in this effort, the Delaware Bay oyster will be back in a big way."
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Great to see something is being done to bring back an aquatic industry.
 

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I hope it works too. Maryland has been doing the same for many many years with no progress whatsoever. Continued heavy harvest, persistant disease, predation and worstly, siltation...all conspire to keep our oyster stocks in trouble over here.
 
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