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Shellfish Charade – Public Health or Pet Projects?

After 5 Years, Christie DEP Still Fails To Comply With FDA Shellfish Safety Requirements

Instead of Addressing Huge Problems, Advocates Pursue A Pet Project

A Stunningly Warped Sense of Priorities


 Charade noun cha·rade \shə-ˈrād, -ˈräd\ something that is done in order to pretend something is true when it is not really true

Source: NJ DEP Shellfish Classification Areas

Source: NJ DEP Shellfish Classification Areas


But Bill Wolfe, a former DEP employee, blamed part of the problem on a ballot question approved by voters last fall that diverted millions of dollars from the DEP’s budget for programs to monitor water quality and other resources.

“We’re running a threadbare approach threatening a $1 billion industry in the state,’’ he said. ~~ end update]

[Update #2 – The AP story picked up by the Bergen Record is part of the problem – stenographers for Sen. Cardinale’s vast spin, alleging the:

vast potential improvement to water quality that oysters could provide

I call vast bullshit on that.

Not only does the AP story ignore the hypocrisy of the open space diversion of funds from water monitoring, but this selfish quote by Deb Mans illustrates exactly my point: why does Mans think that Baykeeper’s tiny and totally insignificant restoration project is more important than water quality and public health risks across the entire State and a $1 billion industry?

“It is simply not acceptable that because the DEP has underfunded its shellfish program that we still can’t do this kind of work.”  

Stated like a petulant spoiled child about to hold their breath.

And of course, no mention of the open space diversion or the $1 million Chevron oil spill settlement given to Baykeeper.

And to describe oyster restoration as a “speed bump” to make the NJ shore and Delaware Bay more “reslient” to the impacts of climate change, sea level rise, and coastal storm risk is even more bullshit than claiming “vast water quality improvements”~~~ end update]

The Senate Environment Committee considered a bill today (S2617) to promote an oyster restoration research project in highly contaminated waters of Raritan Bay where shellfish growing is prohibited in order to protect public health.

The bill is sponsored by Senator “Drainage Ditch” Cardinale – perhaps the most anti-environmental, anti-DEP, and right wing Legislator in NJ.

Before I get to what went on, let me provide essential context – I want to be very clear here (hit the links for details and documents):

1) NJ has serious water quality problems (just look at all the red on that map above) and NJ DEP has significant deficiencies in the Shellfish Sanitation Program (SSP) required under federal law to protect consumers from eating contaminated shellfish, see:

2) Those deficiencies led the federal Food and Drug Administration to issue a critical 2009 evaluation Report and write a warning letter to NJ DEP, threatening to ban the sale of NJ shellfish in interstate markets;

3) Instead of addressing these statewide deficiencies, the Christie DEP tried to divert attention to and blame FDA concerns on an oyster  research project in Raritan Bay, see:

3) NJ DEP made commitments to FDA in 2010 to correct the SSP deficiencies identified by FDA;

4) NJ DEP has failed to honor those commitments, see:

5) None of this has anything whatsoever to do with the proposed Raritan Bay shellfish restoration research that was blocked by DEP and is the subject of the bill heard today; and

6) Providing another example of shortsighted recklessness, the Open Space Ballot initiative diverted $10 million from DEP water monitoring programs, a portion of which funded the already underfunded Shellfish Sanitation Program, see:

Let me repeat that point, so it does not get lost:

At a time when the FDA was threatening to revoke NJ’s authorization to sell $1 billion of shellfish in interstate markets due to inadequate monitoring, the Keep It Green Coalition and legislature supported diversion of $10 million from DEP water resource monitoring programs, a portion of which goes to shellfish monitoring.

Really, how stupid crazy is that?

But KIG is just a small part of this story.

The DEP’s failure to honor commitments made 5 years ago to FDA jeopardizes NJ’s $1 billion annual shellfish industry and thousands of jobs – as well as increase public health risks of eating contaminated shellfish.

One would think that serious DEP failure to address a water quality and environmental health issue of that magnitude would get urgent attention by Trenton policymakers and environmental advocates.

One would be wrong.

Instead, NY/NJ Baykeeper is seeking to restore a pet research project on oyster restoration in Raritan Bay.

That project was terminated by the Christie DEP, who was seeking to blame NY/NJ Baykeeper for the State’s failures to adequately fund the Shellfish Sanitation Program and comply with FDA requirements.

I find that to be a stunningly warped sense of priorities, yet there it was on full display in Trenton today.

I also find the fact the NY/NJ Baykeeper received 1$ million in an oil spill settlement for oyster restoration work a questionable use of those funds that starved local communities of resources and amenities, like parks.

This $1 million deal is something I’m glad I saved some of the original text to ***because the link to the document no longer works (expired, domain not renewed) – Catania wrote:

CRI administered $1 million in funding for an oyster restoration project in the Raritan Bay which was provided under a civil settlement with Chevron U.S.A., Inc. and the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. The settlement arose from a February 2006 oil spill in the Arthur Kill, the strait separating Staten Island from New Jersey.

From 2007 – 2014, this funding was used on NY/NJ Baykeeper’s Oyster Restoration in the Raritan Estuary Initiative. It funded the first stages of restoring oysters to the Raritan Bay including research and experiments that have shown that oysters can be restored to this area. Through their work in New York City and New Jersey, Baykeeper is showing that oysters can play a fundamental role helping filter pollutants and restore ecosystem function to the Raritan Bay and Hudson River Estuary.

These types of civil settlements are quite common at the Federal level. Realizing this, CRI met with the US Attorney’s office in 2007 after they announced a big settlement in New Jersey that was to be awarded to NFWF, which, in-turn, was going to grant it to other non-profit conservation organizations in New Jersey. We met with the US Attorney in order to determine whether or not a local non-profit could play the role that NFWF typically plays in administering these funds. The US Attorney’s office could not provide an answer to us and it still remains unclear whether NFWF has a monopoly on this type of federal funding. 

That’s $1 million that communities along the Arthur Kill didn’t get – just like the Christie Exxon NRD ripoff.

And all that is now down the memory hole! [thank goodness for Google cache – h/t SO]

[* This excerpt from an 2010 Op-Ed by Mike Catania is ironic in light of the CRI funding and the KIG Open Space diversion of $10 million of DEP water monitoring funds:

But we also have an additional problem with a lack of resources to provide both DEP and our Department of Health with funds to adequately patrol these areas, to replace vessels that are too old and small for this herculean task, and to pay for necessary sampling. As far as I can tell, closing down the shellfish gardens won’t solve a single one of the deficiencies in the state regulatory program noted by the FDA.

So,back to today’s legislative hearing:

Instead of the legislature and so called Bay advocates worrying about whether the Christie DEP’s failure to honor FDA commitments, adopt regulations, and adequately staff and fund essential water resource and public health protection programs will prompt FDA to ban NJ shellfish in interstate markets or expose consumers to unsafe food, they are focused on pet projects.

As I testified, that’s an effort that amounts to distributing band aids in the cancer ward.

* update

*** correction of error

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