Oyster Restoration Project

Marine Field Station


Stockton University, specifically the Faculty and Staff of the Marine Field Station, was contracted to provide research, technical, and reporting support to the NJDEP Bureau of Shellfisheries as part of the establishment of a potential long-term monitoring program.  The sampling program has been designed to augment current NJDEP data collection activities related to the Mullica River-Great Bay oyster fishery and its annual recruitment cycle.  The project is occuring annually now and the final report for 2014 is found here: 2014 spatfall report to NJDEP

Previous oyster research; 2005 - 2006 

In 2005 the FishAmerica Foundation and the NOAA Restoration Center awarded the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Bureau of Marine Shellfisheries grant funding to conduct an oyster restoration project in the Mullica River-Great Bay estuary. Oyster beds have historically been essential fishery habitats in most East coast estuaries but are declining for various reasons. The work funded by the FishAmerica Foundation addressed the need to restore depleted oyster bed habitat in the MRGB system. Restoration of depleted oyster beds in this area will help to maintain the diversity of habitat type that supports the optimum conditions for diverse finfish and crustacean shellfish production. It is also believed that viable oyster beds will support maintaining water quality which is beneficial to all marine life and to the recreational and commercial fisheries that depend on them.

Funding was used to enhance finfish habitat in the MRGB system by spreading crushed clam shell and transplanting upriver oyster seed to chosen areas at the mouth of the Mullica River. The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey was awarded a subcontract to provide research support utilizing students from their Marine Science Program and resources from their neighboring Marine Science and Environmental Field Station. The overall project was a community-based effort to enhance the oyster bed habitat in this estuary and educate the public about the role and benefits of oyster habitat in the Mullica River Great Bay estuary.

Location of the Mullica River-Great Bay estuary and the field offices of Stockton and NJDFW Shellfisheries.

The Project

The project was divided into three primary areas; spreading of crushed surf clam shell for oyster bed development, monitoring of seasonal oyster spat settlement in the seed and harvest areas and monitoring finfish and motile crustacean use of the harvest area oyster beds. The NJDFW Shellfisheries office coordinated efforts to spread crushed surf clam shell in areas of the Mullica River Great Bay intersection that are chosen through the cooperative research efforts of Stockton, NOAA Restoration Center and their own Shellfisheries offices.

Spat settlement

Spat settlement research began in July 2005 and has continued each year since under separate research programs. Four sites were initially chosen to monitor spat settlement (Frenches Point, Moss Point, Fitney Bit and the Reef). The upriver sites are considered seed areas for the Mullica River's natural oyster population. Fitney Bit is a natural oyster bed area that within it contains a transplant area. The transplant area has received seed from upriver within the past two years. The Reef site is a potential transplant area that historically has supported some oyster reef development. Two bags containing 20 cleaned oyster shells each have been positioned to rest within 1 meter of the bottom of an anchored deployment buoy located at each site. A seasonal bag will remain at each site through the growing season and the additional bag will be retrieved every 10-14 days to assess the spat set during that time period. Students from the College have been instructed by NJDFW biologists on the identification and counting techniques for spat set. Data will be analyzed for spat settlement versus location and correlated with water quality data available from records taken during retrievals as well as System-wide Monitoring Program for the JC NERR.

Cleaned oysters and a spat collector bag.

Students Ed Hale and Bob Scahill make final adjustments.

Stockton student Ed Hale deploys a spat collector.

Spat collectors are retrieved every 10-14 days.

Oyster spat found after the first retrieval in early August 2005.

Great variation between sites and individual oysters is common.

Finfish and motile crustacean survey

The finfish and motile crustacean survey began in early August 2005. Prior to the initial survey representatives from the NOAA Restoration Center, NJDFW shellfisheries office and Stockton College met to discuss the survey design. The treatment area to be investigated will be the Fitney Bit harvest area, an area of just under 0.25 square mile with depths ranging from 7' - 14'. This oyster bed has been enhanced over the past few years through the transplanting of upriver seed oyster to the site. Careful attention was paid to choosing a control site that would represent the treatment site well. Depth, sediment structure and general hydrographic characteristics were considered when selecting the control site. The control area was established just upriver of the treatment site approximately 1x the treatment area's width in distance away. Attempts were made to increase this buffer distance however numerous negative correlation factors at greater distances, such as water depth and sediment structure, outweighed the desire to further separate the two areas.

The sediment structure of this area was too dissimilar to the treatment area as indicated by a high silt content during investigative dredging.

The sediment structure in this area was favorable for use as a control site as evidenced by the greater sand/silt ratio and the presence of some oyster shell and red-bearded sponge.

A sample oyster dredge from the treatment area. Notice the presence of oyster shell, live oysters and considerable amounts of oyster bed supported micor habitats such as red-bearded sponge colonies.

View the Technical Report

If you have an interest in this research project please check back as this site will be updated regularly. If you have specific questions please contact us.

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