Stockton University Marine Field Station Starts Grant Work to Build Experimental Oyster Reef in Little Egg Harbor Bay

For Immediate Release


Contact:         Susan Allen
                        News and Media Relations
                        Galloway, NJ 08205
                        (609) 652-4790

Galloway, N.J. – Stockton University’s Marine Field Station in Port Republic, N.J. will establish an experimental oyster reef in Little Egg Harbor (LEH) Bay this summer and also continue the American Littoral Society’s efforts on the Good Luck Point reef near Toms River. The overarching goal of the project is to measure the success of oyster restoration methods using both wild oysters and an aquaculture-spawned, disease-resistant strain.

New Jersey’s oyster population has plummeted over the years due to pollution, disease and overharvest. A resurgence in oysters would provide ecosystem services such as improved water quality and fish habitat, as well as potential economic opportunities for the shellfish and aquaculture industries. 

The Barnegat Bay Partnership, one of 28 congressionally designated estuary programs in the U.S., awarded Stockton $52,000 in grant funding, which was then matched by Stockton and its project partners, fifth-generation oysterman Dale Parsons, of Parsons Seafood in Tuckerton, N.J., and the American Littoral Society (ALS). The majority of the grant is going toward the LEH Bay project with the rest supporting similar efforts at the Good Luck Point reef.

Steve Evert, manager of Stockton’s Field Station, is the project leader. “There is a limited oyster population in the Little Egg Harbor Bay and not nearly enough oysters anywhere in Barnegat Bay to support a self-recruiting effort. Without enough wild oysters, shelling alone will not work [to restore the oysters in Barnegat Bay],” Evert explained.

Oysters are filter-feeding invertebrates that colonize reefs. Larvae float in the water column until they adhere to a hard substrate, often other oyster shells, at which point they become spat (young, settled oysters). Adding shell to an ecosystem provides new oyster habitat, but only if there is a reasonably established population and larvae available during the summer spawn.

Parsons, an oyster and clam farmer, will use Rutgers Aquaculture Innovation Center-spawned oyster larvae to set spat on clean whelk shell in large tanks, a process known as remote setting. The oyster larvae were purchased from Rutgers University’s AIC with a matched donation and logistical support. A similar effort was already made by the American Littoral Society in Ocean Gate for use on the Good Luck Point reef.

“Four million oyster larvae can fit into the palms of two hands,” Evert said.

“The funding provided by the Barnegat Bay Partnership is supporting not only the research and outreach efforts, but also helping to increase aquaculture opportunities for farmers like Parsons and restoration groups like ALS,” explained Evert.

Once the oyster larvae set onto the whelk shells, which provide more surface area than oyster shells, the whelk shells will be transported to the reef site on Stockton’s newest research vessel, the R/V Petrel.

The second half of the on-the-ground efforts entails transplanting wild oyster seed from the Mullica River oyster beds to the research reefs in LEH Bay and Toms River. Evert will work with Maxwell Shellfish, of Port Republic, to harvest wild oysters from their leases in the fall to transplant to the reef sites. Maxwell Shellfish also provided a match toward the project. 

“The Mullica River-Great Bay (MRGB) oyster population is the only self-recruiting, fishable stock of oysters in any of New Jersey’s coastal bays. It is a natural choice for possible restoration efforts, especially those within reasonable distances of the MRGB system,” Evert said.

The biological and cost analysis data collected from these experimental reefs will help to inform larger restoration projects in the future.

“There is so much regional interest in oyster restoration, and we know that shelling will not jump-start restoration in Barnegat or Little Egg Harbor bays,” Evert said.

“This leaves us with two options: remote-set aquaculture efforts or Mullica River transplants. The goal of this project is to assess the biological and cost metrics of each approach. The project itself will not restore oysters to self-recruiting levels in these areas, but it will answer some important questions needed to justify larger (more expensive) efforts,” said Evert.

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