TRENTON – All shellfish beds in New Jersey are now open as a result of the reopening of shellfish beds in northern Delaware Bay today. The Department of Environmental Protection has also extended the oyster harvesting season in Delaware Bay until at least Nov. 30 – or until the annual quota is reached – to help the industry make up for lost time and revenues resulting from the closure of beds due to Hurricane Irene.
The oyster harvest season typically runs from April until the middle of November. The DEP has authorized the season to be extended until Nov. 30, and will consider extending the season into early December if the annual quota has not been reached and water temperatures allow. Oysters close their shells and enter a state similar to hibernation when water temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit, precluding harvesting.
In addition, the DEP is allowing commercial oyster harvesting on Saturdays. Normally oyster harvesting may only be done Mondays through Fridays.
“The shellfish industry has been very patient and worked very closely with the state to make sure the beds were reopened safely and in accordance with state and federal health guidelines,” Commissioner Bob Martin said. “The Delaware Bay oyster industry is a vital part of the state’s overall shellfish industry. These steps we’re taking will help the oyster industry make up for losses forced by the closures of the beds that occurred during a critical point in the harvest season.”
The industry still has about 40,000 bushels of its annual quota of more than 90,000 bushels left to harvest.
Oyster beds located in an area at the neck of the bay from Ben Davis Point in Cumberland County north to Artificial Island in Salem County were reopened today. Water quality and tissue samples taken in this area now meet federal health standards.
The DEP closed all New Jersey shellfish beds to commercial and recreational harvesting on Aug. 27 in preparation for Hurricane Irene, due to concerns over degradation of water quality from anticipated large volumes of stormwater. Oysters and clams, like other bivalves such as mussels, are filter feeders that can accumulate harmful bacteria carried into waterways by stormwater.
Beds along the Atlantic coast, primarily used in the harvest of clams, have been reopened since early September. Clams are harvested year-round and do not have season limitations as oysters do.
Delaware Bay continued to be affected by large amounts of stormwater in the Delaware River from Irene and subsequent storms, including Tropical Storm Lee.
The DEP reopened a vast majority of the beds in the lower Delaware Bay, a large area from Cape May Point to Beadon Point in Cumberland County, on Sept. 9. Beds further up the bay, in an area from Beadon Point to Ben Davis Point, were reopened on Sept. 29.
The DEP monitors, classifies and enforces shellfish regulations in 425,830 acres of estuarine beds and 295,857 acres of ocean beds. Beds in Delaware Bay are nearly exclusively oyster beds, while the beds along the coast are primarily clam beds with some oyster beds.
The Department of Health and Senior Services Food Safety Program regularly inspects shellfish processing plants to ensure they follow regulations that outline health and safety precautions. Shellfish samples are regularly collected from harvest areas, certified shellfish dealers and retailers for bacteriological examination.
For more information, including a map of reopened shellfish beds, visit www.nj.gov/dep/bmw.