Jan 29, 2007

Clams Help Oysters...

My dad spied this article today in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Worth the read....
Clams give Jersey oysters a leg up
Abundant clamshells provide a natural hatchery, and the Delaware Bay harvest is up 27 pct.
By Sandy Bauers
Inquirer Staff Writer

For 50 years, the Delaware Bay's oysters have been in a losing battle against two parasites that have decimated their numbers, and scientists have spent as many years trying to bring them back.
Last week, biologists announced that the latest efforts yielded a 27 percent jump in last summer's harvest of the salty, meaty oyster. But they also warned that ensuring a healthy future for the bivalve would cost millions.
In 1957, a parasite called MSX swept through the bay, killing as many as 95 percent of the oysters in some beds. Just about the time oysters began to develop a resistance, along came another parasite, Dermo.
Neither hurts humans. But they kill oysters, and their habitat. The problem is that new oysters need old oysters. A lot of them.
Oyster shells create reefs, which free-floating oyster larvae latch onto, becoming what biologists call "spat." There they remain until they die or are harvested.
If the larvae land, say, in the silt of the Delaware Bay bottom instead of on oyster shells, they're goners. The primitive organisms have been around for millions of years, yet they never learned to swim or perform other similar aquatic survival functions.
"A really stupid design," quipped Roger Mann of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, who spoke at a three-day Delaware estuary science conference in Cape May.
As it turns out, New Jersey has one of the largest clam harvests in the nation.
In 2003, New Jersey planted 25,000 bushels of clamshell in the lower bay, where the tidal sloshings take most of the larvae, and the high salinity encourages growth.
"It's nature's hatchery," says Russ Babb, a fisheries biologist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
But they couldn't leave the shell there long-term. Dermo also thrives in the high salinity. It would kill the oysters before they matured.
So later that year, workers recovered much of the shell - finding it contained 81 times more spat than the baywide average - and replanted it in a seedbed known as Bennies Sand north of the Maurice River, where the salinity is lower.
Then they waited.
In 2006, the DEP's Jason Hearon reported last week, the test paid off. Harvesters took an additional 13,393 bushels - a 27 percent increase - because so many Bennies oysters survived.
The project cost $42,000. But it earned $535,000 for the harvesters. Or, factoring in processors, transporters and the like, $3 million overall.
"I'd like my stockbroker to get me that kind of return," Hearon joked.
In 2005, with $900,000 in funding, they planted still more clamshell.
In 2006, with $2 million in federal funding, they planted the most ever - 500,000 bushels.
But it is not enough to get the population over any sort of hump. Dermo is still killing.
Scientists now say that for Delaware Bay oysters to survive, the industry will have to plant 500,000 bushels of shell a year, boatload upon boatload of them, at a cost of roughly $1 million, indefinitely.
"If we do less, then we can anticipate the slow, steady degradation" of the oysters, says Eric Powell, director of Rutgers University's Haskins Shellfish Research Lab in Port Norris.
Many of the clams are dredged miles offshore and brought to port in Point Pleasant Beach and Atlantic City, then trucked to Surfside Products in Bivalve, where the meat is saved for chowder and the shells are stacked outside.
Last Tuesday, project manager Veronica Sergiacomi walked along a mound 190 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 15 feet tall - 100,000 bushels. And growing.
She shook her head in amazement. Never quite a waste product, in recent years it has been used as aggregate for driveways and bulkheads.
That will have to stop, Powell says. "It's too important a resource."
Assuming the industry can get enough shell, "the obvious question now is, how are we going to finance it?" says Kathy Klein, executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, a nonprofit group that sponsored the conference. She says oysters are one of the estuary's most urgent problems.
Powell says saving the oyster requires political will. State and federal legislators, he says, "are going to have to make a decision to have this be an ecological entity or let it die."
Meanwhile, diners that perhaps forgot about the Delaware Bay oyster are rediscovering them. They're becoming popular at Philadelphia restaurants like the Sansom Street Oyster House. "A salty, delicate oyster," says owner Cary Neff.
Oystermen remain hopeful. "We're on the right road," says Steve Fleetwood, manager of Bivalve Packing Co., which ships oysters around the country.
Last Tuesday, with tide and temperature falling fast, Dan Carter and his father-in-law, Bill Moore, slipped on layers of hats, coats and gloves and headed out together in an open skiff.
They planned to tong off the mouth of the Maurice River until just before sunset.
"If you're on oysters," Moore says with a smile, "you can get three to five bushels an hour."



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