DEP Orders Baykeeper to Remove Oysters from Contaminated Waters
The NY/NJ Baykeeper recently removed its oysters from New York Harbor in compliance with the state's ban on research-related gardening of commercially viable oysters in contaminated waters.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin said that action helps meet two key goals: safeguarding public health and protecting the health and viability of the state's $790 million-a-year shellfish industry.
A location at Maurice River Cove in the Delaware Bay was identified as a potential alternate site for the Baykeeper's oysters, offering the type of water needed for its research, and in an area with adequate patrols to meet the Food and Drug Administration's requirements. In addition, DEP said it is prepared to work with school groups that operate educational programs under the Baykeeper's umbrella to help them switch to non-commercial species of shellfish for their education projects.
"We sought to work in a spirit of cooperation with the Baykeeper," said Martin. "But they left us no choice but to issue a legal notice of violation to force removal of their shellfish from contaminated waters."
FDA put New Jersey on notice this spring, warning the state was not complying with patrol mandates to adequately safeguard shellfish growing areas, leaving some contaminated waters open to poaching and its potential health risks. The FDA threatened federal sanctions and/or a shut-down of the shellfish industry. In June, Martin ordered the removal of all research-related commercial species of shellfish from contaminated waters.
DEP has put together an adequate patrol force to provide required safeguards in approved shellfish growing areas to comply with FDA patrol requirements this season.
Most growers of shellfish in tainted or seasonally approved waters are environmental organizations, which are involved in legitimate scientific and educational efforts. A variety of commercial shellfish, including oysters, hard clams and blue mussels, are grown for study purposes. However, poachers could target those locations and steal the shellfish, which then could be sold to consumers.
DEP said it makes about 60 arrests annually of illegal harvesters or poachers in restricted waters, primarily in the New York/New Jersey Harbor and Raritan Bay. A recent DEP inspection of the Baykeeper's oyster project in waters at Keyport Harbor found at least 20 percent of its oysters at or near market size, and not protected from poaching. They were being grown in restricted waters, jeopardizing the state's rating with FDA.