Filter Feeding Bivalves
Location: Cape May, New Jersey
Featuring: Atlantic Capes Fisheries
What happened to the Cape May salt oyster? Two things: for one, in the 1950s, oyster men converted their boats from sail to diesel to catch larger amounts of oysters, leading to rampant over-harvesting and an industry collapse. Second, the introduction of MSX, a deadly oyster disease, most likely from the introduction of non-native oysters, devastated the already strained populations.
The Haskin Shellfish Research Lab (HSRL) at Rutgers University performs scientific research on the Delaware Bay oyster industry. By focusing on oyster genetics, they hope to create a more disease resistant oyster and a healthier Delaware Bay.
The HSRL is now the main producer of Cape May salt seed oysters. They operate two hatcheries in Cape May County. Their disease resistant stocks supply local oyster farms like Atlantic Capes with seed. Working closely with HSRL allows these farms to effectively plan future harvests.
For James Tweed of Atlantic Capes Fisheries, a healthy Delaware Bay oyster population means cleaner water. Also, James says, “We know a lot about the biology of oysters in Delaware Bay but very little about how they actually live and what factors contribute to a healthy oyster population in the bay.” Since the bay’s natural resources are finite, oystermen are now realizing that the management is necessary in order to ensure future harvests. Factors to consider in effectively managing population includes maintaining sufficient shell substrate on which juvenile oysters can attach and grow.