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Supporting Oyster Harvests, Restoring Reefs

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The program aims to support more than 100 shellfish companies and preserve more than 200 jobs. (Cavan Images/Adobe Stock)
The program aims to support more than 100 shellfish companies and preserve more than 200 jobs. (Cavan Images/Adobe Stock)
November 23, 2020

NEW YORK -- The COVID pandemic has practically wiped out the market for fresh oysters, but conservationists are helping out by buying up their surplus for oyster restoration projects.

Oysters are both a sustainable source of seafood and an important part of marine ecology. Oyster reefs around New York Harbor and Long Island help protect shorelines and the oysters filter seawater, removing sediments and pollutants such as nitrogen that cause algal blooms.

Adam Starke, estuary specialist with The Nature Conservancy of New York, said while the effort right now is focused on the growers, it serves two functions.

"It pairs the need of the growers to unload their oysters that are losing value and helps provide a home for those oysters by connecting to restoration projects," Starke explained.

A second phase of the project, called Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration, will help oyster farmers diversify and adopt sustainable business practices.

Starke added oysters are sold primarily to bars and restaurants that have been closed for most of this year, leaving oyster farmers with no market for their product.

"There's a bit of a fear by the industry that there'd be a price collapse because there is a huge surplus of oysters," Starke observed. "And so, this program was set up to try to help sustain their businesses through this whole COVID lockdown."

Working in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, the program plans to distribute about two-million-dollars in payments to oyster farmers over two years.

Starke noted there has been a lot of interest through the years by oyster growers in being part of the restoration process, and efforts are under way to find new ways to make that happen.

"We're trying to work with local governments and also with the federal government to try to create some programs where growers can actually be paid for growing oyster products that can be used in restoration," Starke outlined.

He concluded the goal is to pave the way for a viable and sustainable shellfish industry that benefits both the ocean and the communities that rely on it.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in New York - Long Island contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY