Shellabration: ‘A Party With a Purpose’

Restoring Oysters in the Bay Is Growing Success
By JULIET KASZAS-HOCH | Oct 22, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Brant Beach — Farmers, guardians and lovers of the bay gathered last Saturday in Brant Beach for the second annual Shellabration: a salute to aquaculture and saltwater bivalve mollusks like the oyster, its renaissance well under way. Although flooding pushed the event back by a week, the community found its way to Bayview Park, where many an oyster was shucked and slurped.

Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini conceived the bayside celebration as a way to bring awareness to the local estuary, and to oyster restoration. At this year’s event, the mayor, along with Township Commissioner Ralph Bayard, surveyed the scene: live music on stage, yoga in the pavilion, nonprofit organization resource tables, food and beverages from area establishments, and of course, oysters.

Also on site were the township’s usual suspects – Sustainability Coordinator Angela Andersen, Bayview Park Director Joni Bakum, Bayview water sports guru Jack Bushko – and representatives from all other partners in the Oyster Recycling Program, which involves collecting empty oyster shells from participating restaurants to subsequently use to raise more oysters on a shell reef in Barnegat Bay.

Joe Mangino of Stafford Township drives the Oyster Recycling Program truck, funded by the township, to gather the shells, which are then taken to the Parsons Mariculture Center. Once the shells have cured, Dale Parsons – a fifth generation bayman, and owner of Parsons Seafood in Tuckerton – sets them with spat (baby oysters) and loads them in bushel cages into setting tanks filled with filtered sea water. After three or four days, he begins a continuous flow of water through the tanks to feed the larvae.

Once the spat have developed into an oyster “blister” – approximately five weeks – the cages are removed from the setting tank and emptied onto a transport barge, which is pushed by Parsons’ skiff to the restoration site, the Tuckerton Research Reef.

Parsons is the aquaculture side of the project, while Steve Evert, who manages Stockton University’s Marine Field Station; assistant professor of marine science Christine Thompson; and Stockton students provide the science and monitoring.

Since establishment of the reef, funding has been supplied by organizations such as the Barnegat Bay Partnership and the Jetty Rock Foundation; the latter is a partner, along with the Jetty company, in the Oyster Recycling Program. As Evert and Parsons pointed out, grants from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection for the next year will fund additional work: the remote setting of the oyster shells with spat, by Parsons, and water quality monitoring by Stockton.

Local nonprofits ReClam the Bay and Alliance for a Living Ocean were situated, their tables set with educational materials, just a few feet away from the tables Stockton set up at Shellabration, and near Parsons’ oyster dredge and his 23-foot skiff that he brought to the event for attendees to check out.

As ReClam President Rick Bushnell explained, the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program – part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension – birthed ReClam the Bay. The program was intent on facilitating stewardship activities, while also providing ecology education.

“Adult oysters can filter 50 gallons of water per day, and clams 20 gallons per day,” Bushnell explained, giving examples of both an incredible ecological fact and an important reason for stewardship of the bay.

“If you live the coastal life, there are things you have to understand,” he stated. “Your neighbor is the North Atlantic. You have a responsibility.”

As if on cue, Neil Kelly approached Bushnell to present a donation of $3,500 from the Oluv C. Joyner Foundation to help ReClam the Bay in its efforts. The Foundation, for which Kelly’s daughter, Katherine Kelly, is on the board, supports causes that include the environment, education and animal welfare.

“Mimi” Fanning, of Leeward Avenue in Beach Haven, checked out ReClam, ALO and Stockton’s tables, then drifted over to where Parsons had parked his dredge, and looked over his display of equipment and oyster shells.

“Were oysters around in prehistoric times?” Fanning asked.

“Oysters have been around forever,” answered Parsons.

Fanning then turned to Andersen, nearby, and remarked, “To think that Long Beach Island didn’t have this event until last year! Now it will be a tradition.”

“Yes, it’s a party with a purpose,” said Andersen.

“How did you get into this love of oysters?” Fanning inquired.

Andersen spoke in part about the locally-shot, award-winning documentary “The Oyster Farmers,” which she produced. The Oak Leaf Media film, directed by Corinne G. Ruff, focuses on oyster aquaculture in Barnegat Bay, and seeks to play a part in awareness and restoration of oyster farming.

“We saw there were people trying to bring the oyster back to the area,” Andersen stated. “Now, we have nine oyster farmers in our bay.”

“The township, the restaurants and Jetty make this all happen,” she said of the Oyster Recycling Program. “But without the new wave of farmers providing this local food source to restaurants, we would not have the abundance of shell to capture from the landfill.”

At Shellabration, members of the Barnegat Oyster Collective (barnegatoyster.com) were lined up under tents by the bay. Theo Gerike, of Seven Bridges Oysters, was slinging a mouth-watering roasted oyster with kelp butter and katsonbushi, with help from his brother Stephen. Gerike has been in the oyster business for about three years; he was the second or third farmer in the region, he believes. He grows his oysters in Great Bay, by the mouth of the Mullica River.

Although the farmers in the Barnegat Oyster Collective send their bounty to various states – from throughout New Jersey to New York and Philly to out west and down south – as Gerike noted, “it’s fun to sell them locally.”

Next to Gerike, Adam Sprague of Blood Point Oyster Co. was shucking his Jersey Devil oysters. The two are neighbors in Great Bay as well, with reefs just 220 feet apart. Sprague and Gerike both grew up clamming. Now, all these years later, they’re oyster-ing.

Learn more about the Oyster Recycling Program at jettylife.com/pages/jetty-oyster-recycling-program. Donate to the program online or by texting “followtheshell” to 41444.

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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