Letter: NJ DEP Backpedals on Proposed “Pick Your Own” Shellfish Farm

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May 13, 2019, Barnegat Bay


Forty North Oyster Farms in partnership with the Barnegat Oyster Collective proposed designating a once acre shellfish lease to be used by the public. Under Title 50, the state statute that directs shellfishing, a lease holder may authorize another properly licensed individual to harvest shellfish off of a shellfish lease.

Forty North submitted an application to the NJ DEP in November outlining their plans in which they would operate out of Van’s Boat Rentals in Barnegat Light, NJ. Patrons would be able to come and rent a boat, purchase a recreational shellfish license, take a short orientation and then go out on their own to dig and rake for clams and oysters.

“We see this as a great opportunity to market our state’s fantastic shellfish as well as a chance to connect people to their food,” says Matthew Gregg, owner of Forty North Oyster Farms.

The application was accepted, approved and a permit was issued to Gregg on December 28, 2018. Since that time, both Forty North and the Barnegat Oyster Collective have spent most of their winter getting ready for the roll out of the new operation. That is until the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Gregg on March 25, 2019 stating that they ‘do not approve’ of the activity. The DEP then redacted that letter and re-sent another version of a letter on April 4, 2019.

“Our chance to adjudicate has passed. If the DEP had denied our application we could have gone before a judge, but now we are no longer eligible because an appeal must be made within thirty days of a decision. Their letter isn’t a decision, it’s just a threat. We put so much into this and hope we can still do it” says Gregg.

Other states are taking advantage of the growing demand for shellfish. Shellfish farms in neighboring states are pushing oyster farm to table tours, seeing aqua-tourism as good for the economy and environment. States like Massachusetts and Connecticut plant shellfish on public bottom and allow recreational shellfishers to go out and recreationally harvest. It creates revenue for those states.

In this proposed instance, the revenue collected from the sale of recreational shellfish licenses would go back to the state to be used for restoration.

The NJ DEP has expressed concerns that people may get sick because they won’t know how to properly cool their shellfish and refrigerate them when they get home. An illness could potentially negatively impact the reputation of NJ’s Industry. “Their concerns are ludicrous. We have properly handled and sold 100% of the farmed oysters in the Barnegat Bay in the last decade. Teaching people how to put ice on shellfish is fairly simple” says Gregg.