Home > Uncategorized > DEP Attack on Baykeeper Masks Statewide Pollution Problems and Failure to Comply with FDA Food Safety Standards

DEP Attack on Baykeeper Masks Statewide Pollution Problems and Failure to Comply with FDA Food Safety Standards


DEP Shellfish Classification Areas

[Updates below]

I don’t like to beat a dead horse and I prefer to create stories instead of criticizing main stream journalism, but due to misinformation, I want to inject a few facts into the continuing misleading press coverage by the Star Ledger.

The Ledger’s coverage  has amplified misleading impressions – originally created by DEP Commissioner Martin’s June 7 press release by conflating FDA requirements, real shellfish health risks, and bogus DEP claims.

DEP has (I believe intentionally, as a diversion to cover their asses) created the false impression that the Baykeeper oyster restoration research (AKA “shellfish gardening”): 1) threatens closure of the $790 million NJ shellfish industry; 2) puts public health at risk; and 3) is the source of FDA oversight concerns.

All three claims individually are simply not accurate – taken together and in light of other relevant facts, they amount to a gross lie.

And today’s Ledger story reinforces that lie, which is inexcusable, because the facts of the matter have been outed (listen to Senate Environment Committee July 15 hearing testimony starts at 1 hour 20 minutes). Hit the links below and get the relevant facts.

Above is the most recent map of shellfish growing water classifications. As is obvious, NJ has a huge problem due to pollution that has resulted in the closure of the areas in red. The Baykeeeper project is a tiny dot in that red area in Raritan Bay (by Keyport).

More detailed and current classification updates and maps can be found by clicking here and here.

Here is FDA’s evaluation of NJ program and findings of deficiency.

Here is FDA’s June 2 warning letter to DEP Commissioner Martin threatening to shut down NJ’s commercial shellfish industry.

Here is DEP’s June 4 draft Vibrio parahaemolyticus Management Plan to reduce the risk of illness from pathogenic bacteria. It is one of DEP’s first efforts to satisfy FDA concerns.  Comprehensive Action Plans by DEP and DHSS to correct all deficiencies are due to be submitted to FDA by August 2.

Baykeeper’s research project includes 50,000 oysters, 80% of which are too small to sell commercially. In contrast, DEP’s Raritan Bay Shellfish Survey estimates that there are over 600 MILLION clams that are far more accessible, commercially marketable, and more readily poached.

Not only is Baykeeper research insignificant geographically, but the numbers of research oysters are dwarfed by other nearby, accessible, unsafe shellfish.

Any Statewide shellfish management plan based on an honest risk assessment would consider these facts and therefore would not deploy enforcement resources and focus on Baykeeper.

But instead of rational science based management, DEP has engaged in political science and media spin, by claiming: 1) the Bay-keeper restoration research is subject to poachers, 2) poachers may sell contaminated oysters in commercial markets; 3) as a result, someone might get sick and 4) the $790 million NJ shellfish industry might be harmed.

At the same time, while singularly targeting Baykeeper research, DEP’s June 7 press release failed to disclose 1) other known far more important facts regarding serious risks to public health from shellfish, 2) far more substantial deficiencies identified by FDA FY ’09 evaluation Report, and 3) the the FDA’s June 2, 2010 letter threat to close NJ shellfish industry.

As a result of DEP’s misleading June 7 press release, the news coverage got it all wrong from the get go.

But that all changed when we released the FDA evaluation Report, followed by disclosure of the June 2 closure warning letter to DEP Commissioner Martin.

The facts are that 1) FDA has threatened to close the NJ shellfish industry because the DEP and Department of Health and Senior Services do not have adequate resources, staff, boats, etc to test water quality, patrol shellfish waters, and monitor commercial shellfish processing and distribution operations; and 2) there are far greater risk to public health from shellfish that have nothing to do with Baykeeeper oyster research.

Many other NJ news outlets seem to understand this – and even moderate Mike Catania wrote an Op-Ed that questioned Commissioner Martin’s judgement.

On July 15, Kirk Moore of the Asbury Park Press reported

In his report Wolf [of FDA]  noted the growth of oyster restoration efforts in the New York-New Jersey harbor area and that the DEP has “an appropriate focus on the public health aspects of oyster/shellfish gardening.” The report called for adequate patrolling but does not demand removal as the DEP has done.

Moore nailed it down further in a follow-up July 17  FDA story:

Feds: N.J. didn’t patrol shellfish grounds

New Jersey has seriously neglected patrolling its shellfish grounds for years, with inadequate enforcement on more than two-thirds of its waters, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

[Baykeeper] Mans said the agency is “using our small research project to hide the larger problem” that DEP has for years been underfunding and understaffing its shellfish patrol program statewide.”

Patrols are not frequent enough to meet standards of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, according to the FDA 2009 report, which was obtained and distributed last week by Bill Wolfe of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. A possible trigger for the DEP’s move against Baykeeper oysters appears in a comment halfway through the eight-page federal report, right after the document says New Jersey does not have enough officers on the water.

“There are increased demands placed on this Marine Enforcement Section (DEP’s marine patrol) from non-commercial shellfish oyster gardening requests in “closed’ harvest areas,’ ” the FDA report says.

But the FDA did not demand a shutdown of the oyster projects, only calling for adequate patrols

Mike Miller of the Atlantic City Press reported on the FDA concerns, and quoted an industry spokeperson to the effect that it is highly unlikely for poached shellfish to enter commercial market:

Oversight of New Jersey’s shellfish industry lacking, group finds

State oversight of the lucrative shellfish industry has fallen short of federal standards because of budget cuts, a public advocacy group said. […]

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees New Jersey’s shellfish programs to ensure they are protecting the public from health risks associated with eating tainted seafood.

The federal agency’s 2009 evaluation faulted New Jersey for several shortcomings:

* The state had lax enforcement in 21 of 30 closed shellfish areas that are supposed to be patrolled by fishing regulators to keep poachers out.

* The state conducted inspections of processing plants and shellfish wholesalers infrequently.

* The state has taken 30 percent fewer water samples to classify shellfish grounds since 2008, when one of the state field employees retired.

The FDA report warned that fewer patrols of closed waters could harm public health. […]

But [Scot] Mackey  [spokesman for Garden State Seafood Association] said seafood, and shellfish in particular, is so carefully monitored that poachers would have trouble finding a market to sell illegal products in New Jersey.

“We don’t believe anyone would be able to harvest shellfish from a closed area and sell it commercially anywhere in the state,” he said.

Joe Tyrrell of NJNewsroom reports that the FDA itself has said that the DEP reaction to close down oyster research has nothing to do with them:

The FDA had nothing to do with Martin’s order to the Baykeeper or other research beds, according to Herndon [of FDA].

“This is a state decision alone… in consideration of limited patrol resources,” he said.

The DEP enforcement actions and incomplete and misleading press release claims create a false appearance of significant risk to public health from oyster research. This is a fraud and a cynical PR diversion by DEP.

The Star Ledger’s repeated misleading stories are a disservice to readers.

[Update #2 – 7/23/10 – Bergen Record nails it,  DEP to use state police boats to patrol New Jersey’s shellfish harvesting areas.  ~~ end update]

[Update #1: this is the kind of straight up bad news FDA regulatory safety story that DEP Commissioner Martin’s spin dodged: “New FDA report shows multiple lapses at J&J Plant” ~~~ end update]

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  1. July 21st, 2010 at 12:29 | #1

    maybe editors at the Ledger an tell Brian Murray to stop digging?

    Maybe they can shift focus to holding DEP and DHAA accountable to FDA requirements and reporting on the status of the Action Plans mandated by FDA by August 2?

    I’ve tried privately via email and gotten unprofessional personal attacks and threats in return.

  2. alsmith
    August 10th, 2010 at 06:11 | #2

    Nice coverage. Thanks.

    Note: NJDEP 2010 shellfish growing water classification charts (only available by having it mailed to you ie. not online which is 2009) clearly shows Keyport harbor as “special restricted” not “prohibited”. Water quality has improved and the space is open to harvesting clams that will be depurated.

  1. August 2nd, 2010 at 10:27 | #1
  2. August 10th, 2010 at 09:36 | #2
  3. September 14th, 2014 at 04:01 | #3
  4. February 21st, 2023 at 13:45 | #4
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