The New Jersey seafood industry is beginning to return to normal after screeching to a halt during Hurricane Sandy.

 

The state opened shellfish beds in the Delaware Bay Monday morning, and fishing operations based in North Jersey have largely resumed production.

Shellfish gathering had been off limits throughout the Garden State because of elevated bacterial and viral levels in coastal waterways. Flooding and broken water-treatment equipment along the coast meant sewage was streaming into many shellfish beds.

Those toxins get concentrated in the flesh of filter feeders including oysters, mussels and clams.

"They filter out bacteria and viruses as well as any nutrients in the water," said Jill Lipoti, director of water monitoring and standards for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"To really put this in perspective for the public, we allow people to swim in areas that have up to 200 colony-forming units in the water," Lipoti said. "But for shellfish (harvesting), the limit is 14."

After declaring Delaware Bay beds clean, the state is testing shellfish in beds along the shore. Officials hope to reopen many as early as Thursday. The state estimates when all the shellfish beds were shut down, the $876 million industry lost about a million dollars of revenue a day.

Meanwhile, Lipoti said water quality in the ocean is just fine. But commercial fishing boats were docked for days if not longer due to Sandy-induced physical damage to cleaning and unloading equipment on shore.

"Point Pleasant, Barnegat Light, up into that area there are a lot of seafood houses that at the very minimum had to shut down for a number of days because of the loss of electrical power," said Joe Lasprogata, with the Philadelphia-based fish purveyor Samuels & Son Seafood. "But in the long run, they did lose equipment (too)."

The Garden State Seafood Association said the hardest-hit fishing operations were out for about two weeks to repair shore operations. Almost all were back online in the past few days.

The group does not have projections yet on lost revenue for the industry.