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Legalize Oysters!

By Susannah Black
October 9, 2015

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Oyster restoration is a region-wide project, not one confined to New York State.  The waters of the estuary don’t recognize state boundaries– but the same can’t be said of the decisions of legislatures.  And so, while in New York State oyster restoration is moving forward, across the river in New Jersey, a very different story’s been playing out… 

In New Jersey, oyster restoration is all but impossible, thanks to well-intentioned but restrictive legislation. A recent bill which would have legalized restoration passed– but only in a gutted form which does nothing to address the restrictions, nothing to enable New Jersey to join New York in this crucial work of restoration.  For BOP to be a truly effective estuary-wide ecosystem restoration project, this has to change.

Through Billion Oyster Project we are working to restore New York Harbor and reconnect our metropolitan community to the water.  Restoring the Harbor means restoring the ecosystem function that has been lost through the destruction of the native oyster reefs.  We believe that the Harbor is a natural resource to which we’re all entitled– and one that has been taken from us.  BOP is not only resiliency, ecosystem restoration, public education, waste stream reduction and storm protection; it is also an initiative that will activate the metropolitan community to restore and appreciate their greatest natural resource.

Oyster restoration and research are currently banned in New Jersey waters that are certified as “closed” or “restricted.”  All of New York Harbor is either closed or restricted.  This ban prevents Billion Oyster Project from operating in New Jersey or with New Jersey public schools.

In effect, the New Jersey waters have been designated as “too dirty to clean.”

The oysters are seen as a public health risk and not as the native species they are, essential for ecosystem function.  In New York this native species is critical to resiliency efforts– efforts which have been embraced by public school teachers– and are beginning to play an increasingly important role in proactive planning for global climate change.

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Unfortunately, the story is different on the other side of the river.  In New Jersey, oysters are not tools for building resiliency or engaging students.  They cannot be used as a lens to focus learning or as a biological filter to help clean our degraded waterways. Students and teachers are already asking us for oysters.  New Jersey students and teachers deserve the same opportunities and access to the same programs as their peers across the river.

On Thursday, 9/24, bi-partisan bill S2617 (sponsored by Senator Cardinale) went before the New Jersey State Senate for a floor vote. That bill was intended to lift NJDEP’s ban and allow NY/NJ Baykeeper to work in public waters once again– and it would have enabled BOP to expand into our sister state. The bill’s original language can be found here. To learn more, see the fact sheet here.

Here’s what happened Thursday: the bill passed, 35-0– but with emergency amendments added which effectively re-instituted restrictions; the language of the amendments is such that restoration permits will be nearly impossible to obtain.

We need your help.  New York/New Jersey Baykeeper has been working to repeal this ban since it was put in place in 2010 and they were forced to destroy their research projects in Raritan Bay. They are our partners in oyster restoration and should be yours in working to repeal the ban on oyster restoration and research.  Please follow their guidance detailed below and LET US KNOW if you take action: contact us at restore@nyharbor.org, and cc Baykeeper: sandra@nynjbaykeeper.org.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Contact NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin at bob.martin@dep.nj.gov or 609-292-2885 and Governor Chris Christie at 609-292-6000 and tell them that shellfish can protect YOU AND YOUR FAMILY from flooding by naturally strengthening our coasts and it’s time to reverse the ban on shellfish research, restoration, and education programs!

  • Call your Assemblypersons and urge them to support the strong bi-partisan Assembly version of the bill, A3944.

  • Contact Assemblyman Garcia, the sponsor of the bill and thank him for his leadership at asmgarcia@njleg.org or 201-714-4960.

  • Submit a Letter to the Editor to your local paper. Email sandra@nynjbaykeeper.org for examples.

  • Tweet @NJDEP @njassemblydems @GovChristie or your Assemblypersons the following tweets:​

~Don’t let #NJ students fall behind on shellfish research.

~Support A3944 #Oysters4Resiliency

~Oyster reefs act as a buffer against coastal flooding! Support A3944 #Oysters4Resilience

Follow New York/New Jersey Baykeeper on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for up-to-date details– and use the memes on this page to support us on your own accounts!

For more information and ways you can help, please visit their website at http://nynjbaykeeper.org/reverse-the-shellfish-ban/.  If you’ve got specific questions, feel free to reach out to Sandra Meola (sandra@nynjbaykeeper.org) or Debbie Mans (debbie@nynjbaykeeper.org.)

Thank you for your continued support.  Please do not hesitate to reach out or to share your stories as you take on this important work.

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