New Jersey bans shellfish gardening

    Environmental groups are divided over a state decision in New Jersey to halt clam, oyster and mussel restoration projects in polluted waters.

    Environmental groups are divided over a state decision in New Jersey to halt clam, oyster and mussel restoration projects in polluted waters.
    (Photo: Flickr/Dan SanDonkey)

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    New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection makes about 60 arrests each year for poachers harvesting seafood in polluted waters. At the same time, environmental groups and volunteers are trying to restore shellfish populations in these areas. Bob Connell, DEP’s bureau chief for marine monitoring, says the projects only feed the poachers.

    Connell: Putting shellfish into those areas and increasing the density of shellfish and the ease of harvest for those raises the risk of someone getting in there and harvesting illegally.

    The Department this week responded by banning so-called shellfish gardening.

    Comi: This is really an ecological crisis for us here.

    Meredith Comi is the oyster program director for the New York-New Jersey Baykeeper.

    Comi: We’re the only organization that has a restoration project going on the New York New Jersey Harbor and if that goes away we will lose jobs here at Baykeeper…also the environment obviously will be left to suffer.

    Comi’s group and volunteer school groups have been growing oysters in the Hudson-Raritan estuary for 10 years. The ban stops her work immediately.

    Jeff Tittel, the head of the New Jersey Sierra Club, says projects like Comi’s are great for educating people on the ecological importance of shellfish. But locating programs in polluted waters can be dangerous.

    Tittel: Some of these waterbodies have beaches that are superfund sites. There’s dioxin, PCBs, mercury, lead, other heavy metals. So even though the programs are nice, the outcomes because of poaching could be very dangerous.

    DEP’s concern is that oysters poached from polluted waters could sicken people, and could threaten the health of New Jersey’s fishery if consumers worry about the safety of the harvest. Tittel says he agrees with the ban, but it’s only a short-term solution. Ultimately, the state should put resources toward policing poachers and cleaning up the waterways to make health concerns a moot point.

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