For oysterman Barney Hollinger, a Delaware Bay conservation plan needs to prevent further erosion of the mouth of the Maurice River, and further filling in of waterways used by oyster boats.
“If the mouth of the Maurice River continues to erode away ... storms would roll in and pretty much devastate the Bivalve and Shell Pile area,” said Hollinger, of the Cape May Salt Oyster Co. and the Delaware Bay Shellfish Council.
Those sections of Commercial Township have most of the state’s oyster packing houses and the only oyster-shucking house in New Jersey, he said.
Nantuxent Cove and Nantuxent Creek off Money Island in Downe Township, where the oyster fleet is based in summer, are filling in, he said.
“All the oyster product comes through that way,” he said. “If we lose the ability to run boats in and out of that channel ... it would be devastating to the oyster industry.”
So Hollinger has spent time giving input to the rewriting of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Delaware Estuary, being put together by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary with the help of a large group of stakeholders.
PDE held an open house last week at the nonprofit Bayshore Center at Bivalve, in hopes of getting input on the plan from the public. But most of the 20 or so attendees were environmental or industry advocates who work for nonprofits or serve on environmental commissions or government boards, and who have given input regularly.
Diane Kenny, of Kimble’s Beach in Middle Township, didn’t know about the meeting, so didn’t attend. But when asked what advice she would give to people putting together a new plan, she said beach replenishment should be a big priority.
“The bay is encroaching on the land,” Kenny said. “As a result of the erosion, little tiny creeks when I moved here 10 years ago are bigger creeks. The less beach we have, the more creeks we have.”
And that means a weakening of the marshes that protect property.
Darryl Errickson, who has lived in the Reeds Beach section of Middle Township for 50 years, agreed.
“My concern is how much the water is rising,” Errickson said. He said bulkheads work in places, but “you stop the water in one place and it still goes someplace else.”
The nonprofit PDE is one of 28 National Estuary Programs run through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. All must have a management plan. The EPA is requiring PDE to update its plan, which was written in 1996.
“The revised plan we want to be more of a public-friendly document, a living document,” said Emily Baumbach, a science planning specialist with PDE. It will have three core elements: clean waters, healthy habitats and strong communities, she said, and plan for priorities for the next 10 years.
The estuary covers 6,000 square miles where 6.7 million people live in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, Baumbach said. PDE focuses on the tidal area where salt water mixes with fresh water, which runs from “head of tide at Trenton to the mouth of the Bay at the Atlantic Ocean,” according to its website.
The document, now in draft form, includes eight goals and 39 strategies to achieve the three core elements, and lists partners likely to work with DPE on each.
Most strategies are general and part of what the group has been doing for years, such as: “Manage and improve rare, endangered, invasive or otherwise important species.” But Baumbach said the document will help a variety of nonprofits get funding for projects for goals and strategies that are included.
It will be updated with information from open houses and released later this year for public comment. Then it will be published in fall 2018 or winter 2019, Baumbach said.
Attendees asked for more baseline data on the current state of the bay to be included in the report, for strategies to be included to fight beach erosion, and for more sharing of information among groups working in various states.
Meghan Wren, founding director of the Bayshore Center at Bivalve and one of the people who helped write the 1996 management plan, said the Delaware Bay needs a marketing and branding campaign to build public support for funding conservation efforts.
“The governor has made Barnegat Bay a big focus,” Wren said of his program to clean up the bay, which he recently announced was entering its second phase with another $20 million committed to projects to improve water quality.
“Every time I see that I think, ‘Wait a minute. What about the Delaware Estuary?’ Here is a bigger jewel that has not necessarily been given the same attention,” Wren said.
Part of the problem is Barnegat Bay, off Ocean County, is in New Jersey, but the Delaware Bay is shared by New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania in its tidal region, and also by New York farther upriver.
“It’s difficult for New Jersey to take ownership,” she said, “especially when it’s called the ‘Delaware.’”
To give your input on what priorities matter most to you in conserving Delaware Bay, visit delawareestuary.org/our-plan.