TRENTON — The Department of Environmental Protection reminds state residents that harvesting blue claw crabs from the waters of the Lower Passaic River and Newark Bay is prohibited, as scientists have found that crabs from those waters continue to show harmful levels of cancer-causing dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), as well as other contaminants, including mercury.
A coordinated multi-language education effort is underway this week, with the help of community groups and municipalities in the Lower Passaic and Newark Bay region, to get a reminder message out to area residents about the negative health effects of crabbing in those waters.
DEP enforcement officers and community and environmental organizations have monitored waters in the region this spring and found that many of the warning signs regarding the dangers of crabbing have been torn down and that some residents continue to fish for blue claw crabs.
“We strongly urge people not to eat crabs pulled from those waters. This is a matter of public health and safety for people who live in neighborhoods in that region,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “Until the water quality issues are resolved, we are asking people to observe the ban on crabbing in that area. There are plenty of other places in clean waters for good, healthy fishing and crabbing in New Jersey.”
Contaminants found in blue claw crabs and some fish pulled from waters in this region can be especially harmful to fetuses and infants, so women of child-bearing years, pregnant women and nursing mothers should not eat these crabs. Children also are at risk of developmental and neurological problems if exposed to these chemicals.
“There is no way to prepare crabs from these waters to make them safe for consumption,” said Acting State Department of Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Tina Tan.
The blue claw crab is a bottom dweller and feeder that has grown in size and increased in abundance in the Newark Bay Complex and Lower Passaic River in recent years because the area is closed to commercial crabbing. That increased size and abundance has made the blue claw crabs even more attractive to some crabbers, who ignore the ban on crabbing and consumption, which has been in effect since the mid-1980s.
“Some people don’t want to believe there is a problem,” said Gary Buchanan, manager of the DEP’s Office of Science, which has extensively studied these waters. “Because these crabs look really healthy, many people may not truly comprehend the problem and, as a result, ignore our warnings. But those crabs are not healthy and should not be eaten.”
To inform residents of risks of eating blue claw crabs pulled from the Lower Passaic River and Newark Bay aquatic complex, the DEP is working with the State Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), local partners, and officials of 44 municipalities and 6 counties — Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Union and Passaic – affected by this issue.
A long-term outreach and education effort being conducted by the DHSS Seafood and Shellfish Project has distributed nearly 200,000 copies of a brochure in English and Spanish that warns of the effects of dioxins on children.
The region in question is a highly industrialized urban area that includes Newark Bay, the Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull, and the tidal portions of the Hackensack, Passaic, Elizabeth, and Rahway rivers.
In 2005, the DEP and State Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the companies responsible for the intentional discharge of dioxins into the Lower Passaic River. At that time, dioxin concentrations in Passaic River crabs and fish were among the highest in the world. That lawsuit is still pending in Superior Court.
Additionally, the DEP is now working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on plans for a cleanup of an eight-mile stretch of the Lower Passaic River. In a separate action, responsible parties are preparing to remove about 40,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated sediments in a portion of Lower Passaic River. That work is scheduled to begin this summer.
Persons who violate the crabbing ban in the Lower Passaic and Newark Bay are subject to fines ranging from $300 to $3,000 for a first offense.
For more information on the ban, visit: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/crab-outreach/alert-english.htm
For a full listing of marine fish advisories for Newark Bay and the Lower Passaic River, visit: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/fishadvisories/statewide.htm#newark
To see a list of fish consumption advisories in New Jersey, visit: www.FishSmartEatSmartNJ.org
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