Susan Allen / Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR)

NJ - Oyster Buyback Program Revitalizes Growers, Rebuilds Reefs

Once oysters are purchased from growers along the East Coast, they’re used to ‘reseed’ damaged and dying reefs in New Jersey waters and elsewhere

For the small-scale oyster growers of Barnegat and Delaware bays, the challenge of finding enough customers to buy their harvest is growing more difficult by the day, as the still-surging pandemic converges with winter, forcing restaurants to scale back orders or shutter altogether.

But a partnership recently forged between The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Nature Conservancy is working to counter the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic on the oyster aquaculture industry, which supports around 3,000 jobs nationwide.

The initiative, called Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR), has designated $2 million to buy back some 5 million oysters from over 100 oyster farmers in New England, the mid-Atlantic and Washington state. Once the bivalves are purchased, they are transported back to the water to be “replanted” on existing oyster reefs in need of restoration.

‘Restoration at its finest’

The program reached New Jersey earlier this month (a total of seven states are involved) and is dedicated to purchasing over 620,000 oysters from some 20 Barnegat and Delaware bay growers. “We still have some limited follow-up plantings on both coasts, but the bulk of our phase one is now complete,” said Pew’s Zack Greenberg, who heads the project’s New Jersey effort. “It really has been community-wide restoration at its finest.”

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