Shaping up shellfish oversight
Monday, July 19th, 2010
New Jersey's environmental protection department says it is shaping up its oversight of the shellfishing industry. The agency had been out of compliance with federal rules for monitoring seafood safety.
Too few personnel, boats, and resources led New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection to fall out of compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
The Food and Drug Administration had asked the department to shape up after it had failed to provide adequate patrolling of areas that are off-limits to harvesting oysters and other seafood. The lack of monitoring left the areas vulnerable to poaching and the food supply vulnerable to contamination. Larry Ragonese is a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Ragonese: We have actually borrowed some boats from the state police. We redirected conservation officers. We did what we could with the budget constraints we have to ensure we come up with the minimum requirement for patrolling.
The department also prohibited educational groups from conducting experiments with shellfish in polluted waters.
Bill Wolfe, the New Jersey director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says that's not enough. What the state really needs to do is properly fund the department.
Wolfe: If this is not a core public health and DEP responsibility, I don't know what is. I mean, we're approaching third world country conditions if you can't come to consensus that you're going to protect the food supply. Ragonese says the department's budget was cut two to three percent this year, but it was the smallest cut to any state department. He adds that the lack of resources and funding for shellfish patrols had been declining for years. DEP says it believes its efforts have brought the department back into compliance and that New Jersey's seafood is safe.