Researchers in North Jersey working with artificial oyster reef projects in Raritan Bay and the Hudson Estuary in New Jersey report that after 2-3 years the living oysters die off and recruitment of new oysters is very low. New Jersey SeaGrant is supporting further study.
Meanwhile here in South Jersey, anecdotal observation of our artificial oyster reefs here at Money Island Marina indicate the opposite. The reefs are thriving. Unfortunately, this is attracting unwanted attention from illegal harvesters. Growth on the reefs was slow and almost unnoticeable in the first few years after implementation and Baysave previously reported almost 100% winter die-off of intertidal reefs exposed to freezing temperatures. But now the reefs are thriving.
Our largest concern is preventing non-English speaking visitors from illegally harvesting the artificial beds in environmentally sensitive or dangerous areas. In recent years a wave of Asian visitors from Philadelphia have shown unwillingness to abide by warning signs and physical barriers protecting the reef areas. Visitors trample the mash grass and climb over slippery moss-covered rock jetties to get to the oysters. Some shuck the oysters there as soon as they are pulled from the reef, collecting the oyster meats in a bucket. Law enforcement resources are understaffed and mostly ineffective in dealing with this new challenge. A video traffic study by Baysave in 2021 documented the phenomenon that over 90% of the daily visitors to Money Island are Asians with Pennsylvania license plates. The same pattern is noticed in criminal trespass complaints by local businesses. Most visitors have limited English language skills. We presume that at least some of the behavior is willfully negligent. New AI-assisted traffic surveillance and reporting technologies are being implemented this month. This may connect law enforcement databases across state lines to be able to more easily identify Pennsylvania vehicles connected with crimes in New Jersey. It is not yet known what effect this will have.