New Jersey kills successful oyster-based anti-pollution projects

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has banned research-related oyster cultivation. Oysters are excellent contaminant filters and as such, are a boon to polluted waters, such as those in New Jersey. However, you wouldn't want to eat the oysters that are busily filtering and reclaiming the water in polluted harbors, which is why, apparently, the "New Jersey Department of Completely Bonkers" has banned their cultivation, preferring toxic water and no bivalves to clean water and toxic bivalves:
If you apply the same math to the oyster decision, then the decision still doesn't make any sense. Say there's a one-in-1,000 chance of contaminated oysters being found, chosen, removed, entered into the human-consumption supply chain, eaten, and ultimately damaging the New Jersey shellfish industry to the tune of say 25% of sales. Let's put the costs of the decision at $10 million: multiply that by 1,000 and you get $10 billion. 25% of New Jersey shellfish sales is $200 million. So you're essentially spending $50, here, for every dollar you save. It makes no sense.

I suspect that what's happening here is a result of lobbying by the New Jersey shellfish industry, which will suffer no harm at all as a result of this decision. They're surely happy about it. But they seem also to have a callous disregard for NY/NJ Baykeepers, for the environmental protection of New Jersey's estuaries, and for New Jersey's taxpayers more generally.

If similar reclamation schemes are a big success in the Chesapeake and elsewhere -- which also have commercial shellfish operations nearby -- they should work in New Jersey as well. So I hope there's some small chance that Martin will do the right thing and change his mind. Maybe New Jersey's oyster lovers can explain to him that they're not worried about their food, so he shouldn't be worried about it either.

New Jersey's crazy war on oysters (via Making Light)

(Image: Bed, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from feetwet's photostream)


  1. I guess it’s OK if we poison the ocean, the planet and everyone on it as long as there isn’t a tiny, tiny chance that someone could eat a bad oyster. After all, you can’t sell planets.

  2. *blinks*
    By my reading, he multiplied *5* numbers he pulled out of his ass, then divided by a number not in the text, presenting the result as meaningful?

    Also, how can this not be harmful to the industry? On that same tiny shoreline, they’re in the not-polluted water? Has the BP disaster taught us nothing?

  3. Someone should genetically modify the Oysters so that when they become too toxic for human consumption, their flesh will turn bright neon green. Noone would eat them then.

  4. “Say there’s a 1 in 1,000 chance?” Where did they get that number? They made it up, out of the blue. Then they made up the 25% number. Then, then they combined these two completely fictional numbers. Nice.

    If resource managers had the luxury of just making stuff up, their jobs would be a lot easier.

  5. Aside from iffy numbers, my concerns stretch back to the simple matter of the value of the practice. Supposedly oysters are great “filters”, but wouldn’t that just means the pollution goes from the water into the oysters. What is then done with the oysters?

    If they are preyed upon by natural aquatic creatures, nothing changes. So they would need to be isolated and protected from other marine life. But even with that, how does this do anything except concentrate the pollutants? Are the oysters harvested and buried on land to get the pollutants out of the water? Somehow processed?

    Or is “filter” the wrong term for oysters? Filters serve as sieves of sorts: you pass mixtures through them and only certain components get through, the rest staying in the filter. Perhaps what was meant was a pollution “scrubber” or “analyzer”, in the old sense? I don’t know enough about oyster physiology, but if they were able to break down pollutants into harmless components rather than simply filter them out, that might actually be useful.

    ~D. Walker

  6. Poaching of oysters from these reefs is a real problem.

    There’s one thing I’ve never understood, and which I never remember to ask NJDEP/NYDEC. Once the oyster shuffles off the mortal coil do the contaminants return to the system?

  7. My understanding of oyster pollution mitigation is that it is certainly not a cure all, but they are capable of removing nitrogenous wastes and algae from waters where eutrophication is occurring. That is a bfd. Eutrophication reduction might be a better term than pollution reduction.
    Don’t have a great source, but this has some details.

  8. Whether the numbers are legit or not I can understand why no New Jersey politician wants to risk being labeled as “that guy who had the bright idea to bring toxic oysters into our food supply.”

    If even one person got suffered ill health that could be attributed to a toxic oyster then everyone associated with the plan could kiss their careers goodbye no matter how much pollution was cleaned up in the process.

  9. In response to posts #s 6 & 7, the contamination that the oysters filter tends to be nutrients and bacteria from uncontrolled sewer and stormwater discharges into the harbor. The oysters eat the bacteria, and turn it into oyster flesh, thus reducing pollution permanently. But you can’t eat them because they are constantly bathed in poop water.

    There is, of course, quite a lot of toxic pollution in the harbor that the oysters do less for. As best they can, they remove toxics from the water as well, and as I understand it, aggregate it and sequester it in pellets. The toxics are then removed from the water column, but then left in the sediment. The oyster’s can’t do a lot of this because the toxics kill them pretty fast.

    Generally speaking, Oysters are good at removing pathogens and nutrients, but are not particularly helpful in dealing with toxics. New Jersey’s best hope for reducing toxics in the water is not oysters, but rather remediation of its many, many, many terrestrial, aquatic and marine contaminated sites.

  10. According to NOAA-NIMFS estimates, the dockside value of last year’s wild clam and quahog harvest was around $31 million, hard clams, $3 million, and oysters $2.5 million. In “Fisheries of the United States,” published by the NOAA Office of Science and Technology (, the entire fin fish and shellfish landings value for New Jersey in 2008 was estimated at $168.7 million, not including depuration clams.

    The DEP claim that there is a $790 million a year industry at stake is not verifiable.

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