Evolving cage design for floating oyster farms in Barnegat Bay, NJ

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $11,088.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Matthew Gregg
Forty North Oyster Farms

Annual Reports


  • Animals: fish, shellfish


  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal summary:


    Decades of environmental improvements in Barnegat Bay have resulted in an increase in interest by Baymen and women in shellfish aquaculture, poised to revitalize the once thriving ‘working waterfront’, while contributing to both the local economy and further improvement of bay water quality. 

    Site-specific farming impediments in Northern Barnegat Bay require the development of customized gear that addresses these issues. Depths over 8 feet require work to be conducted onboard skiffs instead of in shallow water, common elsewhere in the state; the approved growing area lacks the hard sandy bottom commonly used for cultivation, causing equipment to sink deep in silt, degrading oyster health and marketability; winter freezing and strong storms make surface gear vulnerable if left floating year round.  Additionally, current gear is too cumbersome for many of the baymen and women cultivating oysters at the site.

    The purpose of this study is to improve growing methods by testing 2 experimental floating cage designs and compare results to the system currently used, the OysterGro system.


    Outreach following the conclusion of our study will be facilitated through Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.  A final report and design plans for improved gear will be produced and published with help from our technical advisor, Gef Flimlin, of RCE.  Using the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association’s network within the industry, we will identify potential farmers who would benefit from the information gathered during our study and communicate with them about the use of our report and designs on their farm.  Finally, the information gathered will be most useful for our neighboring farmers at Swan Point.  We will present out findings at either NACE, a semi-annual event in the Northeast organized by the Aquaculture Extension Specialists from the region, or the Milford Aquaculture Seminar, an annual event organized by the NOAA Milford Laboratory, depending on when data analysis is complete.  We will also work with RCE to organize a local seminar exhibiting our findings and gear prototypes, demonstrating potential improvements in growing technology.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our study will consist of 4 phases, beginning with construction of gear, followed by the planting and deployment of gear and oyster seed, followed by the maintenance of gear and data collection, and finally, analysis of data collected for final results and outreach.

    Phase 1:  Gear Construction

    During this phase, we will be constructing commercially available floating cages (4 of each model) For our custom design, we will be working with our Technical Advisor, Gef Flimlin of Rutgers Cooperative Extension to perfect our design of a smaller, floating cage that fulfills our design requirements, mentioned in question 1.

    Phase 2: Planting and Deployment of Gear

    During this phase, we will be planting ½”, disease-resistant seed stock into 4 cages of each of the 3 designs mentioned above, for a total of 12 experimental cages. Four longlines will be selected at random within our leasing area where 1 of each of the three cage designs will be placed in a cluster and remain for the study period.  Our planned deployment date is July 1st.

    Phase 3: Maintenance of Gear and Data Collection

    During this phase, data collection will occur on 7 different indicators and 2 different collection schedules.  Data indicators will include the following:

    1. Ease of flipping (EF)
    2. Ease of sinking (ES)
    3. Ease of re-floating (ER)
    4. Ease of general handling (GH)
    5. Silt-sinking depth (SS)
    6. Oyster Growth (OG)
    7. Gear Fouling (GF)

    Data Collection Schedules will be performed as follows:

    Schedule 1: Ease of flipping (EF), general handling (GH), oyster growth (OG), and gear fouling (GF) will be measured weekly during general farm maintenance for 4 months, from June through September.  Farm crew will work through longlines as they normally would, and when experimental cages are encountered, data will be collected using appropriate scales and data tables (see EF Data Table, GH Data Table, OG Data Table & GF Data Table).

    Schedule 2: Data collection for indicators Ease of sinking (ES), ease of re-floating (ER), and silt sinking depth (SS) will begin in early November, after Schedule 1 has completed and when water temperatures have dropped below 50°F.  Day 1 will consist of sinking all cages for the winter season. Farm crew will rate experimental cages ease of sinking (ES) using ES Data Table.  Ease of re-floating (ER) and silt sinking depth (SS) will be measured every 2 weeks for 4 cycles through the middle of December.  Cages will be lifted using our davit crane, drained of water in pontoon floats, and rated using the ER Data Table.  In addition, silt-sinking depth with be determined by measuring silt residue left on cages and recording using SS Data Table. 

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.