Scutari To DEP: Enforcement Key To Sustaining Oyster Project

Filter Feeders Vital to Restoration of Polluted Raritan Bay

TRENTON – Senator Nicholas P. Scutari, D-Union, yesterday sent a letter to Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin expressing concern over a recent department decision to shut down the NY/NJ Baykeeper oyster project, which aids in reducing pollution in the Raritan Bay.

The DEP sent a directive to the Baykeeper on July 15 instructing it to remove its experimental oyster reef from the Hudson-Raritan Estuary out of concern that the shellfish could be illegally poached. The DEP contends that sickness caused by illegally poached oysters making their way into the market could damage the state’s shellfish industry.

In his letter to the Commissioner, Senator Scutari stressed the importance of the oysters, which provide a cleansing mechanism in the polluted Raritan Bay through a natural filtering process in which they take large amounts of water through their bodies and retain pollutants. The process helps to reduce pollution and to rebuild the ecosystem in the waters.

The Senator also emphasized that a number of factors significantly decrease the likelihood that poaching will occur, most notably that the oysters are a fraction of the size of commercially produced oysters, making them unattractive to the market.

Further, the DEP already is required to increase patrols of shell fisheries to comply with US Food and Drug Administration rules, a move which would also guard against potential poaching, Scutari said.

“I submit that the answer to the perceived problem of Baykeeper oysters finding their way into the food supply and thereby harming consumers and the shellfish industry is effective and proper enforcement,” the senator wrote, “rather than dismantlement of a project designed to benefit the environment and ecosystems of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary and surrounding waters.”

Senator Scutari’s full letter to the commissioner is below.

Commissioner Bob Martin July 28, 2010

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

401 E. State Street

P.O. Box 402

Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Commissioner Martin,

I am writing in response to the notice the NY/NJ Baykeeper received from your department directing them to remove their research-related shellfish project from the Keyport Harbor area. There are a number of benefits associated with this project and I have some concerns regarding its discontinuation.

As I am sure you are aware, oysters provide a mechanism to cleanse polluted waters. Also, as I am sure you are aware pollution reduction in the waters of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary is one of the main aims of the Baykeeper oyster restoration project. In addition, oysters in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary support optimal functioning of the ecosystem.

With regard to poachers illegally removing Baykeeper oysters there are three considerations: First, the oysters on the Baykeeper reefs are underwater at all times. This would seem to pose a difficulty to those seeking to illicitly remove oysters from the sites in question. Second, Baykeeper oysters are smaller than commercially available oysters. This smaller size precludes to some extent the likelihood that they will be sold on the commercial market. Finally, the NY/NJ Baykeeper has offered to voluntarily patrol the site and report any unauthorized activity to NJDEP. Further, in a press release from DEP on July 15, 2010 it is stated that DEP must comply with FDA requirements for patrolling the waters in and around the New York/ New Jersey harbor and Raritan Bay. This will involve increased patrols and enforcement in the waters of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary.

The limited accessibility of the oyster reef structures and voluntary initiatives of the NY/NJ Baykeeper coupled with DEP�s enhanced and improved enforcement capacity would seem to offer significant obstacles to poaching and misuse of Baykeeper oysters. I submit that the answer to the perceived problem of Baykeeper oysters finding their way into the food supply and thereby harming consumers and the New Jersey shellfish industry is effective and proper enforcement rather than dismantlement of a project designed to benefit the environment and ecosystems of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary and surrounding waters.

I welcome your response to these concerns.

Sincerely,

Nicholas P. Scutari

Senator, 22nd District