Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Even a cure hurts oystermen in the Gulf--and in NJ, too










A discouraging but instructive story in today's Wall Street Journal relates how:
"In April, soon after the oil spill started, Louisiana officials started opening gates along the levees of the Mississippi River, letting massive amounts of river water pour through man-made channels and into coastal marshes. It was a gambit—similar to opening a fire hose—to keep the encroaching oil at bay.
"By most accounts, the strategy succeeded in minimizing the amount of oil that entered the fertile and lucrative estuaries. But oyster farmers and scientists say it appears to have had one major side effect: the deaths of large numbers of oysters, water-filterers whose simplicity and sensitivity makes them early indicators of environmental influences that ultimately could hit other marsh dwellers too."
The men and women who make their living from the Gulf just can't catch a break.

Oystermen in New Jersey--and an environmental organization there, too--are sharing in the painful consequences of the BP oil rig disaster.

The state's $790 million oyster, clam and mussel harvest faces a possible shutdown by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which contends that New Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services failed to conduct adequate inspections in 2008 and 2009 at plants that process the mollusks hauled in by small, commercial fishing operations.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also failed to conduct mandated patrols of polluted coastal waters to guard against the poaching and illegal sale of contaminated mollusks, federal authorities said.

If the FDA doesn't see a marked improvement in both, it threatens to shut down the state's harvest.

The NY/NJ Baykeeper has spent more than $100,000 to build oyster reefs in Raritan Bay to test whether the waters have become clean enough for oysters to survive again in North Jersey.  Now, it's been ordered by the DEP to remove the oysters.

What's the connection between Gulf oysters and those harvested in New Jersey?

It has to do with the widespread media attention given to the Gulf contamination which, in turn, heightened public concern over the health of oysters served in restaurants everywhere.

The (Bergen) Record reported on Sunday that:
"In June, the DEP banned cultivation of commercial shellfish in polluted state waters for research purposes, saying the reefs could be targeted by poachers. If the contaminated shellfish got into commercial circulation, and someone got sick, it could create a major public relations nightmare for the state's $790 million commercial shell-fishing industry, which is based in the cleaner waters of southern New Jersey, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has said. "
The North Jersey reefs are about 80 feet long by 80 feet wide and lie in water up to 10 feet deep. The Baykeeper group had to use heavy machinery, work boats and scuba divers to get the reefs into place, and will likely need the same resources to remove them.

The Baykeeper organization originally objected to the DEP order and sought the aid of some in the state Legislature to overturn it. On Friday, Baykeeper executive director Debbie Mans said that her organization will comply with the removal order, but she added:

"We're disheartened the DEP would single out an environmental group in such a public and vicious manner.  We do think they're just using our program to hide the larger issue of deficiencies in their statewide patrols of polluted waters for poachers."

Amazing, isn't it, how a single management decision on the deck of an oil rig could damage not only the lives of so many residents of the Gulf but also people and economies far away. 

Related stories:


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