By Lauren Wanko
Oyster farmer Matt Gregg is grateful to be back in business on the Barnegat Bay.
“Ironically our first sale was about four days before the storm, which was a kicker,” said Gregg. “But we’re out trying to get back to where we were so that we can start selling again.”
Matt launched Forty North Oyster Farms a year and a half ago. Before the storm hit, 300,000 oysters were growing on the farm. Sandy wiped away all but 50,000 oysters. That’s a $150,000 dollar loss.
“As the surge came through and there was a breech in the barrier island, I think that just so much energy just pushed everything that was in this area inland,” said Gregg.
His boat was also destroyed by the storm. After Sandy hit, he was forced to head up to New Hampshire to buy a lobster boat and so far he’s spent thousands to make alterations to transform this into an oyster boat.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated what Sandy was going to do, so I thought that we’d be shut down for about a week. As it turns out we got shut down from Oct. 29 until Dec. 21,” Gregg said.
Bruce Friedman, chief of the Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring, says shellfish beds are typically shut down before major storms.
“We figured that we would have some problems with infrastructure. When you have infrastructure failure, pump stations, sanitary sewer overflows, sewage treatment plants, you get sanitary waste into the surface waters of the state. Obviously with shellfish there’s a couple of concerns — public health being in the forefront or one of our primary concerns,” Friedman said. “We need to make sure that the shellfish, which are eaten raw aren’t contaminated by any sanitary waste.”
After the storm, Friedman and his team monitor the surface waters to ensure it’s clean of pathogens. Then they test the shellfish tissue for viruses. Nearly all the shellfish beds have reopened since the storm.
“So this is a long line of oyster cages right here,” Gregg explained. “Each cage has about six bags of oysters. Each bag has about 250 market size oysters.”
Gregg is making up for lost time. He’s created an online fundraiser to generate new revenue. And although Sandy destroyed so much of his business, his love for the industry hasn’t wavered.
“It’s sustainable, it creates jobs, it creates habitat for smaller fish. It’s beneficial all around,” Gregg said.