Is there a shortage of oysters in New York Harbor?


Eleven million oysters have been delivered to New York Harbor, but they are not exactly available for sale.

The gift of millions of oysters in a single shipment, according to the marine corporation in charge of shipping out the bushels of Pacific oysters, will offer a potential palliative, but may provide only a temporary satisfaction to the area’s oyster farmers. The gift from Monterey, Calif.-based Bay Trail shows a total shift in oyster supplies.

Oysters are one of New York’s most beloved creatures, celebrated for their gentle, juicy taste and underwater beauty. But oysters in the harbor had dwindled to just 3 million oysters from all sorts of factors over the last few decades. Now, three marine organizations hope to make a total turnaround.

In 2015, the New York Oyster Growers’ Cooperative received a $2.5 million grant to purchase 500 acres of shell, a major challenge for shellfish in the New York area. On Dec. 19, the organization announced that it would start to lease the 1,295 acres the grant bought, restoring nearly all oyster production to the harbor.

On Tuesday, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection received its own contribution from Bay Trail. There’s just one hitch: Bay Trail is only one of a handful of large shellfish providers in the United States.

New York Harbor was no longer a hotspot for oysters before 1997, when National Geographic and the American Oyster Society were working to reduce the area’s overfishing. Following a successful season, the city of New York signed on, partnering with the American Oyster Society. Since then, a national alliance of states have joined in.

Bay Trail president Bob Beadlin says that the group can take 10,000 bushels of oysters to the United States market at a time. He says that with the recent boom, they can now probably grow and transport bushels to the market from New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina each week.

But the trip from East Coast to coast is a long one, requiring two ships and thousands of miles of drag. In the midst of this, Bay Trail cannot deliver to the vast quantities of New York oysters promised.

There have been recent reports of potential product shortage in New York. On Jan. 24, USA Today reported that buyers had resorted to looking for New England oysters instead, citing an “insufficient supply.” This may indeed have been a situation in some state markets, but the story did not mention any shortage in the harbor.

Fearing a supply problem, some market sellers became wary, and threatened to bid up prices by as much as 25 percent. The Federal Trade Commission confirmed that they were aware of the situation, but some say that they were never threatened with that situation, but were merely being cautious.

The rapid way in which bay traffic could enter the market could leave some having a hard time finding any oysters at all, at least during the winter.

But according to Mr. Beadlin, it is not always that hard to get oysters. And the fact that bay volume is rising may be an indication that demand is, too.

Mr. Beadlin says that the sellers would prefer their oysters with sandy shells, which are considered to be among the best, but it does not seem as if his oysters are lacking for buyers.

As early as Feb. 1, Mr. Beadlin says that he has already sold a thousand bushels of New York oysters, and that 3,000 bushels have already been shipped to local processors this week.

Mr. Beadlin says the recent increase in oyster demand can partly be attributed to “a new awakening” in New York.

It can’t be easy to be a sportsman in a world of overwatermen and fishers. If oysters have swum right into your market and ruined it, all is not lost. Rather than returning oysters to the canals, and in danger of taking their place in the deadlock between bivalves and watermen, New York City and State have invested heavily in localizing production. Still, that could take years, since the efforts to recover the source waters have been many decades in the making.

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