Oyster Sales Bounce Back After A Meager Pandemic Year

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for ODP

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

A year ago, things seemed bad for New Jersey’s oyster growers — restaurants shut down during the pandemic, hampering the oyster market, and sending farmers into a tailspin. But now, sales are back and better than ever. Scott Lennox, a founder of the Barnegat Oyster Collective, told the New York Times: “It’s going to be a bonkers year.”

Why This Matters: The oyster market has bounced back because of two major conservation methods and some shrewd business decisions. Many growers, lacking demand from restaurants, pivoted to other sources of revenue beginning to home-deliver their oysters and selling them at farmers markets. 

Conservation efforts also helped save the oyster market. In New Jersey, for instance, Lisa Calvo, a marine scientist at Rutgers University who also farms oysters in the Delaware Bay, helped create the state’s first oyster buyback program. In addition, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Nature Conservancy used a $2 million gift to fund a much larger buyback program for growers across the east coast.

These programs purchased millions of oysters and housed them in reefs off the coastlines, and in doing so killed two birds with one stone: they saved the oyster industry and the 3,000 jobs connected to it, while also returning oysters to their natural habitats. Each purchased oyster can each filter and clean 50 gallons of water a day during their nondormant months, and increases the habitat for fish and makes coastlines more resilient. These efforts show that conservation and business acumen can go hand in hand. 

The World Is Their Oyster: The pandemic’s chokehold on indoor dining damaged the aquaculture industry across the nation. But this situation may have had some silver linings, and has made the oyster industry more resilient than ever. The Barnegat Oyster Collective, for instance, started a mail-order oyster program during the pandemic that now ships to 48 states and accounts for 20 percent of its sales.

Moreover, the oyster buyback programs implemented during the pandemic may become permanent fixtures of the industry. The New York Times reported: “In a recent survey, farmers said they hoped to continue to donate or sell a portion of their largest, least desirable oysters as a way to pay it forward environmentally — and, possibly, to lock in a tax write-off.”

Zack Greenberg told the Times:We’re trying out this new sort of novel approach to restoration. But it really was about supporting oyster farmers.”


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