Monday, December 2, 2013

Oyster Farming in NJ

I didn't know that oysters love to eat algae. In fact, that is all they eat.

They take in cloudy water, filter out the algae and other forms of phytoplankton and push out crystal clear water. That sounds like a pretty good deal for our water. A juvenile oyster can filter 25 gallons of water a day and an adult can double that.

I discovered this in an article in NJ Monthly that was not so much about the environment as it was about the 40 North Oyster Farm and providing oysters for dining.

13-week-old oysters in Matt Gregg's gloved hand need to triple in size
before they go to market      Photo by Eric Levin
A century ago, the Delaware Bay alone produced more than a million bushels of oysters a year, but harvests fell to an annual average of 36,600 bushels in the 1990s.

There has been a comeback and over the last decade the yield has averaged 72,000 bushels a year.

An oyster farm provides clean water and Essential Fish Habitat which increases the sunlight reaching down, which in time also means in a place like Barnegat Bay that eel grass that serve as an incubator for baby fish increases.

Matt Gregg is the founder of 40 North Oyster Farm in Mantoloking, the northernmost oyster farm in the state at 40 degrees north latitude. At the University of Rhode Island, he majored in marine and coastal policy, minored in aquaculture and fisheries, and was inspired by Mark Kurlansky’s book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. 40 North seeded its first beds in 2011.

Our Jersey coastline was once plentiful with oysters. The state had an industry that boomed until greed and overfishing and later parasitic shellfish diseases destroyed the oyster beds in the 1950s and again in the 1990s.

Most of the oystering in New Jersey is now on the Delaware Bay with a dozen sites. That means you can eat a Jersey-raised Wellfleet, a Chincoteague, a Cape May Salt, a 40 North or any other Eastern Oyster. Let's also give a thank you to the Eastern species to Rutgers. The disease-resistant Rutgers oyster was developed by the late Harold H. Haskin (who has the Shellfish Research Laboratory in Port Norris named for him).

The 40 North farm was another victim of Superstorm Sandy. With their boat destroyed,  they couldn’t get their gear out of the water in time and the oysters got covered with mud and slowly died.

He has since partnered with New York restaurateur Chris Cannon who is turning the Vail Mansion in Morristown into Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, set to open next spring. Cannon is looking to use Jersey farms, breweries and purveyors to supply the restaurant. cannon gets a stake in 40 North and the farm gets a cash infusion.

I have never been a real fan of eating oysters. I was told to chew, not gulp, but I still have not developed a taste for them. Maybe I need to develop a palate for the merroir of the kinds of Eastern Oyster that New Jersey offers. Maybe an oyster tasting in Morristown next spring?

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