If passed, the legislation would lift the 2010 NJDEP ban.
Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia (D-33) and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27) reintroduced legislation that would require the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to lift the ban on shellfish research in coastal and inner harbor waters for research, restoration, and education purposes. A3944was introduced on November 13th, cosponsored by Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13).
Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39) followed suit and introduced S2617 in the Senate on December 1st. Senator Cardinale and Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) had previously introduced an identical bill, S107, co-sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22) in the 2012-2013 legislative session but it did not move forward.
Senator Cardinale said, “The National filtration which oysters contribute to the water quality of our estuaries should be a goal everyone should support. This legislation will remove a regulatory road block which unfortunately is showing down essential research into making that happen.”
“We all want to protect and maintain the health of our waterways,” said Assemblyman Carmelo G. Garcia (D-Hudson). “Oysters do this naturally by filtering the water and removing nitrogen compounds. They also serve as barriers to prevent beach and shoreline erosion and provide refuge and habitat for fish and other sea life. These benefits along with the many educational opportunities oyster restoration programs will give students and stewards of our environment are just a few of the reasons why I am championing this issue by introducing legislation that will allow oyster restoration.”
On June 7, 2010, NJDEP banned research-related gardening of commercial shellfish species in waters classified as contaminated. The purpose of the ban was to minimize the risks of illegally harvested or poached shellfish. However, environmentalists argue that the concern could be mitigated through patrolling and enforcement in coastal and inner harbor waters.
Prior to the ban, organizations such as the NY/NJ Baykeeper had led successful oyster restoration and gardening programs in Raritan Bay and the Navesink River, providing valuable educational and volunteer opportunites to students and community members. Once NJDEP instituted the shellfish research ban, NY/NJ Baykeeper was forced to discard living research projects.
In the Summer of 2010 the NJDEP launched an offensive against Baykeeper’s experimental oyster reef in Keyport Harbor. (See Oyster Program) NJDEP cited concerns that research oysters could be found by poachers, removed from the reef and either consumed or sold for consumption, leading to illness which would then reflect badly on New Jersey’s shellfishery. Baykeeper offered many solutions that would remove the threat even under NJDEP’s extremely unlikely chain of contingencies, but NJDEP refused any offers of compromise.
A Freedom of Information Act request by Bill Wolfe at wolfenotes.com revealed that NJDEP was using Baykeeper’s oyster program as a fall guy to cover NJDEP’s many years of underfunding shellfish patrols. The federal Food and Drug Administration oversees shellfisheries and requires patrols to ensure that shellfish are harvested from approved areas. For years, NJDEP had underfunded its program and left this important industry dangerously exposed to FDA closure. Rather than doing something by expanding patrols in Raritan Bay, NJDEP opted to look like it was doing something by enforcing against Baykeeper.
Baykeeper’s permit allowed oysters to grow on the reef under certain conditions and allowed NJDEP to order their removal before they reached market size. Though NJDEP never ordered their removal, they issued a Notice of Violation to Baykeeper for not removing the oysters, a clear procedural error. Nevertheless, given that some oysters were approaching market size, Baykeeper ultimately agreed to remove the shellfish.
Shortly thereafter, the DEP rejected an application for a separate oyster restoration site in the Shrewsbury River, claiming that the proposed site was poorly chosen and that restoration activities would (ironically) interfere with shellfish habitat. Baykeeper has requested a hearing for both of these decisions. NJDEP has responded to neither request, but in the meantime has agreed to permit oyster research at the Naval Weapons Station Earle, where security is provided by the United States Navy.