For centuries, oysters have provided a sustainable food supply and contributed to the economies of Delaware and New Jersey communities. In fact, 1 to 2 million bushels were harvested every year during the 1930s, when the population initially began to decline. The introduction of the oyster disease MSX in the 1950s, followed in the 1990s by a second disease, Dermo, has resulted in a significant decline in the oyster population. Consequently, the industry has been imperiled.
The oyster population rebounded somewhat by 2000 due to the combined efforts of both states and the oyster industry, producing some 100,000 bushels per year. Today, however, the oyster population is feeling the effects of below-average biological recruitment for unknown reasons.
Over time, the shell-planting and transplant program could increase production to approximately 200,000 to 400,000 bushels per year, with a possible economic impact of up to $60 million between the two states. This is money that would not only revitalize the oyster population in the future, but also many coastal communities dependent upon the living resource.
For more information on the Delaware Bay Oyster Restoration Project, please read our brochure and 2008 update (PDF files). You can also contact Dr. David Bushek of Rutgers University’s Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory at (856) 785-0074, extension 4327. For more insight into the history of Delaware Bay oysters, please read the PDE’s spring 2005 issue of Estuary News, as well as our oyster fact sheet (PDF file).