Long Beach Township, Jetty, the Jetty Rock Foundation, Stockton University and Parsons Seafood are in the business of shell. Three days a week throughout the summer, and less frequently in the off-season, oyster shells are collected from participating area restaurants and taken to Parsons or Stockton. There, the shells cure for six months before they are set with spat – baby oysters – in mariculture tanks. Then, Stockton vessels deploy them onto a reef site in Barnegat Bay and monitor the growth and survivability.
The pearl of the program is oyster restoration: Empty shells are used to raise more oysters. Spat requires a hard shell on which to grow; this is what the recycling initiative provides. The beneficiary of this community collective is the bay, which becomes richer and healthier, thanks to the hinged-shell creatures.
Consumers benefit, too. “Sustainably farmed oysters are hitting raw bars and restaurants from eight different growers in the Barnegat Bay, Little Egg Harbor and Great Bays at record numbers, making us an oyster epicenter,” said township Sustainability Coordinator Angela Andersen. Diners “have the power of purchase, of eating to invest in the local economy and the bays,” and, of course, for the taste.
“The cycle of local farm to local table to our local waters and back again is working, and the shell is the connector,” she added. “The LBI regional shell collection program is a pioneering effort in New Jersey. It is fast becoming our Island culture to capture shell and grow and eat the largest selection of locally grown shellfish.”
Joe Mangino of Manahawkin, “shell recycling specialist,” recently posted a photo on Facebook depicting at least 36 bushels of oyster shells piled high in bins stacked in the back of a pickup truck with the words “Long Beach Township Oyster Recycling Program” and “FollowTheShell.com” emblazoned on its sides. “The smell and max load of shell tells me it was one shell-of-a 4th of July weekend,” he wrote.
The shells are stockpiled by the restaurants that participate in the program. These establishments – The Arlington, Bistro 14, Black Whale Bar and Fish House, Blue Water Café, Boulevard Clams, Country Kettle Chowda, Howard’s Restaurant, Kubel’s Too, Mud City Crab House, Old Causeway Steak and Oyster House, Parker’s Garage, Triton Craft Beer and Oyster Bar, and Tuckers Tavern – place patrons’ empty shells in the receptacles after the oysters have been eaten.
According to the township, a total of 523.5 bushels –13.09 tons – has been collected so far this year.
“It takes a lot of effort between all of the partners who run the program, which is now entering year number three,” explained Jetty CEO/Partner/Co-founder Jeremy DeFilippis. “I think you have to look at the big picture: We’re recycling a lot more shell than we were before!
“We’ll continue to donate funds from our events toward this program with the goal of keeping our Barnegat Bay healthy (or healthier). It’s been quite the learning experience, but without the efforts of the restaurants, Parsons Mariculture, Stockton and LBT it just wouldn’t be a thing at all – it takes a lot of coordination and we’re learning how to run it more effectively and efficiently each season.”
Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said, with a laugh, “We’ve got a lot of stinky shells.” On a more serious note, he pointed out that not only do oyster reefs and clam beds help keep the bay water clean, but they also are “part of the heritage of Barnegat Bay.”
In addition to its efforts to collect shell, the municipality is also happy to promote the second annual Oyster Shellabration, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12, in Bayview Park, located in the Brant Beach section of the township. The event, which was a great success last year, supports the #followtheshell initiative.
“We were thrilled with the way that our first Shellabration event went,” DeFilippis remarked. Beer, oysters (and clams), education, local food vendors and some good vibes carried the first-time event toward raising about $7,000. Half of that money was sent to Long Beach Township to subsidize the truck that picks up the oyster shells.
“The other half was used to replace the green baskets that restaurants were using for the first two years with blue 5-gallon buckets, with lids. This was an effort aimed at cutting down on the smell of the shells. Picking up Monday-Wednesday-Friday during summer does cut that down, as well, because the shells aren’t sitting out for very long.”
As Andersen pointed out, the partners are currently seeking sponsors for the Shellabration.
For more information on the Oyster Recycling Program or the Shellabration, “followtheshell” on Instagram and Twitter, or visit jettylife.com/pages/jetty-oyster-recycling-program.
— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch