AmericanFarm.com

Haskin among pearls within state’s recent oyster revival

By JEFF LERRO
AFP Correspondent

CAPE MAY — New Jersey’s oyster industry has been making a comeback.
And it is determined oyster farmers like Betsy Haskin of Betsy’s Cape Shore Salts among those who are playing a major role.
Located on what is known as the tidal flats of the Delaware Bay, Cape Shore Salts’ oysters grow plump and delicious in this nutrient rich environment.
In its heyday during the early 1900s, boxcars of high quality oysters were sent from New Jersey by rail into major cities like Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore until the industry nearly collapsed in the 1950s.
“Now the industry is growing again. But a lot has changed,” said Haskin. “The industry itself in a sense needs to be reconstructed. New parameters and focus must be set for this new success to continue.”
Certainly, to help lead an endeavor such as this is no small task. One requires the right mindset and a diverse skill set.
Not surprisingly Haskin, a graduate of the New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program while under the leadership of Dr. Mary Nikola of Rutgers Universtiy, attributes much of her ability to having participated in the program.
“I was sort of drawn into business by my customers shortly after my father passed away,” Haskin said. “I thought NJALDP would help me zero in on a business plan. I never would have guessed that I would soon be drawing on the skills I acquired in the program to help reshape the New Jersey oyster industry.”
By 1957 overfishing and disease had reduced the wild oyster stock to a mere shadow of its former self.
Her father Harold, after whom Rutgers University’s Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory is named, played a pivotal part in addressing these issues.
An initiative to develop disease-resistant oysters, new oyster farming techniques and fishing restrictions of wild oysters transformed the industry into what is now regarded as aquaculture.
Covered under the umbrella of New Jersey agriculture, the present aquaculture industry credits much of its slow but steady recovery to Dr. Hal Haskin’s work and strong support from Rutgers Extension.
Now, more than 50 years later, Betsy Haskin finds herself drawing on all of her professional resources as she works in cooperation with the university, state officials and industry representatives in an attempt to guide the state industry’s rebirth.
Since creating Cape Shore Salts, Haskin has seen consumers rediscover what a delight it is to dine on her fresh, succulent fruits of the bay.
But it has been more than just a gastronomic renaissance for these amatuer oyster connoisseurs.
Oyster farming is helping to revive economically impoverished areas through small business start up funding provided by state governments.
In addition, researchers at Rutgers and beyond have discovered the enormous benefit oyster farms have on the environment.
Rather than contributing to poor water quality by adding chemicals and fertilizers, oysters help to reduce it. It has been found that just one oyster can filter up to 25 gallons of water a day.
By cleaning cloudy waters, new healthy vegetative growth is able to provide habitats for a diverse number of marine creatures.
For Betsy Haskin, all of these benefits have been a boon to her business.
With these benefits however, comes a new level of complexity that has forced her outside the limits of her own operation.
“The real value of NJALDP continues to grow for me as I get more involved in the growth of the industry,” Betsy Haskin said.
Most recently, she has helped to create the Cape May Oyster Growers Cooperative.
Together with several other small oyster growers, she hopes to continue working with state officials in reforming the industry as she also transforms the raw skills provided by the NJALDP into tools of change.