New York the Oyster City
Did you know that just 150 years ago New York was the oyster capital of the world? First the Native Americans loved oysters, then the Dutch of New Amsterdam loved oysters, and then the English loved oysters too. From Oyster Bay to Manhattan it was everybody's food.
By the 1800's, New York was harvesting 500 million, or half a billion, oysters annually. On any given day, boats would bring in one and a half million oysters. A single oyster shucker could shuck 600 oysters an hour, for 10 hours a day, in a six-day week. So if someone asks you "How much oyster could an oyster shucker shuck, if an oyster shucker could shuck oysters?" Tell them 36,000 a week.
They were the New York food mainstay, sold in markets, eaten on the half shell on the streets and in every restaurant. In fact... we ate them all. The reefs were tapped out by the late 1800's, then industrial pollution and disease wiped out the rest, and the oyster fishery closed in 1923.
Since 1972's Clean Water Act, the water is ripe for an oyster rebound. This is good news, and not just for the taste. Oysters are hugely important to a marine environment. Oysters perform 3 major functions:
1) Architecture: Oysters create reefs, and all the shells and nooks and crannies provide homes for small creatures, which are food for other fish. Over 300 species use oyster reefs.
2) Stabilization: Reefs buffer incoming waves, lessening shoreline erosion and destruction, including things like the 10-15 foot waves from Hurricane Sandy.
3) Filtration: as filter feeders, oyster filter the water around them through their gills. They intake phytoplankton, carbon, pollutants, and dirt, and most of it they absorb, and pump out the rest. They actually clean the water. One of the biggest dangers for water systems is nitrogen from human wastewater. Every day there are 250 million gallons of wastewater dumped into Jamaica Bay alone. It is filled with nitrates from farms, fertilizers, household products, etc. Too many nitrates cause algal blooms, reduce the oxygen in the water, and create dead zones. Oysters actually remove nitrates and sediment from the water!
So for these 3 reasons scientists, businesses, nonprofits, and even schools are practicing aquaculture. They are depositing oysters back into New York Harbor to begin to restore the reefs. What do you think? Can New York once again be Oyster City?