Shellfish farmers along the Delaware Bayshore have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Traditionally reliant on direct sales to restaurants or wholesale markets, they have been struggling to sell the shellfish because of pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions. The disrupted demand also has created a stock management issue, with oysters bound for spring and summer harvests remaining on the farm longer than usual. As a result, farmers have been unable to free up space to accommodate the growth of next-generation oysters, and many oysters have outgrown the preferred raw bar cocktail size. While some farmers have established alternate markets through shucking houses, online and direct-to-consumer sales, business has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
Into the breach comes a Rutgers-led project that will buy 76,000 overgrown oysters at 65 cents apiece from Delaware Bay-area farms. The mollusks will be transplanted to oyster restoration sites in Little Egg Harbor and the Mullica River this month. Leading the project is Lisa M. Calvo, a marine scientist and aquaculture program coordinator at Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory and New Jersey Sea Grant. “I hope this project will serve as a model for future efforts and establish a shellfish exchange that will serve as a broker linking shellfish farmers and restoration practitioners,” she said.