Oysters Poised for a Rebound in NY Harbor

By Brian Thompson
|  Sunday, Oct 10, 2010  |  Updated 1:00 AM EDT
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Oysters return to a New York Harbor

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Oysters return to a New York Harbor

A decade after the first effort failed, oyster advocates are trying again to make the tasty bivalve grow in New York harbor. But as Brian Thompson reports, you won't find them at local oyster houses anytime soon.
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Three million juvenile oysters are growing under a specially made dock at Governors Island, the biggest concentration of the bivalves in New York Harbor in probably 100 years or so.

 
And in a matter of weeks, they will be replanted at six difference sites around the harbor.
 
The return of oysters, if this works, would come after more than a century of pollution and over harvesting devastated what once fed the immigrants of New York.
 
"They filter out any bad stuff ... and keep the harbor clean," said Hanaa Butcher, 16, and a student with the New York Harbor School on Governors Island.
 
Butcher and a couple of dozen other students at the school have been involved for months in growing the oysters, monitoring their health, and now preparing for a massive planting on the half a dozen living room-sized reefs being built by the Army Corps of Engineers.
 
"We have a vision of a World Class harbor estuary," said the Army Corps New York Region commander, Colonel John Boule.
 
The Army Corps is building the reefs in shallow waters off Governors Island, Staten Island, Hastings-on-Hudson, Bay Ridge Flats(Brooklyn) and Soundview Park(The Bronx).
 
A sixth reef is being sponsored by the New York City DEP in Jamaica Bay.
 
"Certainly we will not be able to slurp them with champagne in the near future," explained Clay Hiles, Executive Director of the Hudson River Foundation.
 
Although 3 million oysters sounds like a lot, the six reefs being built are each the size of a living room--hardly enough say advocates, to sustain a fishery harvest.
 
That's probably a good thing because as clean as the harbor has become in recent years, it's still not there yet.
 
In fact, New Jersey's DEP just this past summer forced the NY/NJ Baykeeper to rip out its oyster garden just below Staten Island out of fears that a poacher might harvest and sell tainted oysters, thus harming the reputation of the Garden State's commercial fisheries.
 
Hiles isn't worried about that in New York waters, noting "They're very hard to get to and there's no percentage in going out there and trying to poach one."
 
The goal, 40 years from now, is to have 5 thousand acres of oyster beds scattered around the harbor.
 
"Those oysters could be filtering this harbor every three days," said Nate Dudley, principal of the Harbor School.
 
As for the NY/NJ Baykeeper, which has been leading the charge for a return of the oysters, the bivalves are critical to a restoration effort that has been decades in the making.
 
"They provide great structure for fish and other marine critters so when you bring back oyster reefs you really provide the architecture for a healthy ecosystem," said Debbie Mans, Baykeeper for the harbor.
 
Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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