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Governor announces investment in Delaware Bay jobs and oyster reefs


Contact:  Melanie Rapp, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902; and Shaun Bailey, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, 302-655-4990, ext. 113

Photos available upon request

Governor announces investment in Delaware Bay jobs and oyster reefs

Similar past investments yielded $25 to $50 for every dollar spent

LEIPSIC (March 9, 2011) – At one of Delaware’s most picturesque towns along Route 9, the fishing village of Leipsic in Kent County, Governor Jack Markell today announced the state’s plan to invest in habitat that will help restore and stabilize the oyster population in the Delaware Bay.

The Governor was joined by Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara and Executive Director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Jennifer Adkins and commercial oyster harvesters, seafood wholesalers and restaurateurs committed to the revitalization of the state’s oyster industry and the ecological restoration of our native oyster.

“Investing in oyster reefs will increase Delaware’s oyster harvest, provide jobs, support our state’s economy, and keep us supplied us with some of the best eating oysters in the country,” said Governor Markell. “I am pleased to be here to announce an investment that is important to the livelihood of our watermen and the many businesses and people who sell Delaware Bay oysters.” Last year Delaware’s oyster harvest had an overall economic impact in the state of more than $2.1 million. Prices dockside for Delaware oysters ranged from $35 - $50 per bushel, among the highest in the nation.

Delaware will invest $50,000 in the Delaware Bay Oyster Restoration Project, matching a pledge by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary last September. The project is a collaborative effort of 12 public and private agencies from Delaware and New Jersey that formed a task force in 2005 to leverage and combine resources to restore oyster populations. Delaware’s investment will come from the DNREC-administered Oyster Recovery Fund, which is derived from the industry’s purchase of oyster licenses, leases and harvest tags.

The project will continue replenishing oyster beds by planting clam shells on historic reefs so that baby oysters or “spat” have a place to attach and grow. Shell planting not only enhances oyster survival but provides habitat for marine life. In addition, adult oysters play a key role in improving the water quality of the bay – each one may filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.

“Oyster restoration has tremendous impacts to our commercial oyster industry and the environmental health of the Delaware Bay,” said Secretary O’Mara. “Our goal is to increase Delaware’s oyster harvest in the long-term, and shell planting is the most cost-effective way to provide oyster habitat, stabilize shell losses and substantially increase the survival of juvenile oysters.”

The Delaware Bay Oyster Restoration Task Force needs another $50,000 to reach its minimum goal of $200,000 to revitalize oyster reefs before the summer spawning season. In January, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware Bay Section of the Shell Fisheries Council announced their pledge of $50,000.

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary is still working to raise the final $50,000 needed to meet the Task Force’s goal by the end of April.

“Restoring oysters to Delaware Bay is good for fish habitat, good for water quality, and good for the economy,” said Executive Director Jennifer Adkins. “Our past experience shows that shell planting increases oyster populations and has a return on investment of $25 to $50 for every $1 spent.”

For centuries, Delaware Bay oysters have provided a sustainable food supply and contributed to the economies of Delaware and New Jersey communities. By the late 1880s, between 9 and 10 million bushels of oysters were being harvested each season from the Delaware Bay, with 45 businesses engaged in oyster packing. During the 1930s, overharvesting resulted in a harvest of more than one million bushels. However, in the 1950s and again in the 1990s, the oyster population was plagued by parasites that nearly caused the industry to disappear. Over the years, oyster populations were further reduced by the shortage of natural surfaces for oyster spat to attach and grow.

Between 2005 and 2009, the bay-wide task force strategically planted 2.1 million bushels of shell, thanks to $5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 2008, the Oyster Restoration Task Force was honored by President Barack Obama with the Coastal America Partnership Award, the only environmental award of its kind given by the White House.


DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife manages Delaware’s 1,496 acres of state-owned natural oyster beds. In DNREC’s Task Force members planted about one million bushels of shell on 241 acres of natural oyster beds in Delaware waters. The scientists monitored planting operations to ensure that shell was planted in the best locations to achieve maximum spat attachments. Scientists continued to monitor the sites after spawning season to document the level of spat retention and compare it to sites that were not planted with shell.

DNREC’s monitoring found that oyster spat attachment on natural oyster beds with newly planted shell has increased six-fold. The scientists found that the amount of shell replaced on the beds has returned to equilibrium levels. The findings indicate that improvements in habitat conditions from the shell plantings have increased oyster abundance in those areas.

For more information on Delaware’s oyster restoration project, visit

Vol. 41, No. 86