Lavallette – Senate Environment and Energy Chairman Bob Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon joined with representatives from the oyster industry today at Crab’s Claw Inn in Lavellette to highlight the work done to restore the ecological health of Barnegat Bay, but said more needs to be done to maintain and improve upon those efforts. The legislators, who have championed numerous bills to improve the bay, said the success of the oyster industry is just one example of its importance to the economy of the state.
“Barnegat Bay is one of the state’s greatest environmental treasures and serves as a major economic engine for the region. We have made progress to improve the health of the bay, but there is more to do to ensure that we preserve it for generations to come,” said Senator Smith (D-Middlesex). “We know there is great demand for oysters, here and around the world, and we know they provide significant benefits to the bay. We have to build upon the successes we’ve had to ensure that this and other industries that depend on the bay can grow and thrive and we are committed to doing that.”
“The oyster industry is a prime example of how a clean bay is vital to our efforts to create jobs and economic development,” said Assemblyman McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “Protecting our environment and supporting business can and should go hand-in-hand. A strong oyster industry relies on a sustainably clean bay, which is why we will continue fighting to protect this great natural treasure. We need jobs and we need a clean environment. New Jersey depends on both, and thrives when both are priorities.”
The legislators were joined by Matt Gregg of Forty North Oyster Farms, an oyster farming company, which utilizes the Barnegat Bay for catching and sorting oysters, which are often distributed to local restaurants. Gregg explained that oysters help to filter the water, and remove algae, improving the health of the bay.
“A decade ago there were no oysters being harvested out of the bay. Today, through the practice of aquaculture, there are more than one hundred thousand oyster landings every month,” said Gregg. “We want to continue to sustainably grow that number.”
Also joining the legislators was Chef Craig Korb of the Crab’s Claw Inn, a local restaurant in Lavallette which specializes in freshly served seafood including oysters.
“As a local chef, I try to use as much locally caught product as possible and having the oyster industry rebounding like it has is a win-win for people who swim in the bay or who use it to make their living,” said Korb.
Senator Smith and Assemblyman McKeon authored numerous bills aiming to restore Barnegat Bay. A landmark law, signed in 2011, established the most restrictive standards in the nation for nitrogen content in fertilizer and application rates for use. The law established a new content standard for fertilizer that reduces excess nutrient runoff into the bay by decreasing the total amount of nitrogen in fertilizer and increasing the amount of slow release nitrogen as well as requiring zero phosphorus content.
A second law (S-1410/A2501) called for the establishment of soil restoration standards that would require that soil at a construction site be restored to its optimal condition following the completion of a project, thereby reducing runoff. This would have a major impact on the bay. Yet, six years after the law’s enactment, the standards are still not in place.
The legislators also sponsored a bill (A3415), vetoed by the governor in 2011, to require the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to evaluate the water quality of Barnegat Bay and, upon a finding that it is impaired, develop total maximum daily loads for the bay.
Another bill, vetoed by the governor, provided the mechanism to fix some 2,000 malfunctioning storm water basins around the bay. The bill (S1856) would have authorized the Ocean County Planning Board, in conjunction with each municipality within the Barnegat Bay watershed, to develop a pollution management plan for the watershed designed to reduce siltation and prevent pollution caused by stormwater runoff or nonpoint sources.
“There is no doubt that the work done to date has improved the health of the bay, which is critical to both the environment and to our economy,” said Smith. “This asset generates billions of dollars in revenue and supports tens of thousands of jobs. We look forward to continuing our work with environmentalists around the state and our colleagues.”
“If we don’t act soon, the bay is going to turn into a toxic soup, which is wholly unacceptable,” McKeon said. “Gov. Christie’s failure to act threatens jobs, economic development, the environment and our future, but we will not give up. We have never stopped working to protect the bay and hopefully we’ll see some real progress soon enough when we get a new governor.”
Smith and McKeon also noted that the closure of Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant, scheduled for 2019, will have a significant positive impact on the health of the Barnegat Bay, as it will end the continued water withdrawals and discharges in the bay.
Photo (Caption, left to right): Sam Hammer, co-owner of Crab’s Claw; Chef Craig Korb; Matt Gregg of Forty North Oyster Farms; Louise Hammer, restaurant co-owner; Assemblyman John McKeon; Senator Bob Smith; Scott Lennox, oyster farmer; and Anita Zalom, Lavellette council president.