Due to high levels of fecal coliform, as of November 1, 2016, The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has temporarily suspended the harvesting of shellfish in the Shark River, downgrading the classification from “restricted.” A restricted classification permits harvesting only if harvested shellfish are de-purified. If the 10 monitoring stations in the River continue to register high levels of bacteria in the water, the suspension will be incorporated into the next adoption of N.J.A.C. 7:12, making these waters permanently “prohibited” for shellfish harvesting.
The suspension affects 266 acres total: 122 acres in the northern section of the river, and 144 acres in the western section of the river. According to SRCC president James MacNamara, “this should set off alarm bells to all those who use the Shark River for commercial and recreational purposes. Would you want to swim or fish in a river that has been designated by the DEP as so polluted that harvesting shellfish is prohibited?” The SRCC has consistently called for measures to improve the water quality, including the current dredging project, which is really only the first step in restoring the health of the Shark River, according to Dredging Director John Dempsey. Dempsey states, “While the current dredging project will provide some flush and allow boats to move through the channels, the NJ DEP and other government officials have acknowledged the current level of dredging will not do much to improve the overall quality of the water. Other areas of the Shark River need to be done!!”
Independent water monitoring done by the SRCC continues to show high bacteria counts in the area of Memorial Park, even during times of no rainfall. SRCC efforts to have visible warning signs placed along Neptune City and Shark River Hills riverfronts, and visible signs posted at Belmar Marina by the pump out station requiring boats to pump out their sewage there have been largely ignored. A sewer pipe in Neptune City has been leaking sewage into the area by Memorial Park for years. L Street Beach in Belmar has suffered several closures after heavy rainfall. Recently, hotspots have been detected in areas by the Shark River Beach and Yacht club as well. In Wall, elected officials have stonewalled the dredging project since 2005 by refusing to offer a temporary drying site. MacNamara states “It is time to inform the public of the hazards associated with the Shark River and take corrective action.”
In Belmar, a new marina restaurant is under construction; in Neptune a brand new Marina has been built, in Neptune City a brand new boardwalk faces the river. These will enhance tourism, but only if the river is clean and safe. The cart has been put before the horse. The priority now should be to make certain the health of our river is restored so that marine and wildlife do not suffer, and people do not get sick from fishing in, swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding in the Shark River. Bacterial levels indicate a serious human health hazard to all in numerous ways.
Local officials in Neptune, Neptune City, Belmar, Avon and Wall must work together to fix the health hazards in the Shark River and take action to improve the bacterial water quality of our rapidly deteriorating resource, the Shark River. It is time to resurrect the Shark River Roundtable and commission a scientific study to find the source contributing to the high fecal coliform counts, and prioritize actions that need to be taken to stop the water quality degradation.
SRCC Secretary Arlene Sciarappa states “While as a non-profit, 501(C)3 organization the SRCC does not endorse particular politicians, we do urge you to contact your local municipal and county officials and press them to make cleaning up the Shark River a priority. It is deplorable to let this beautiful river literally go to waste.”