When fifth-generation bayman Dale Parsons Jr. thinks about the reef he’s building in Little Egg Harbor Bay, he thinks about his 3-year-old daughter. What kind of environment will he leave for her? What will the family business look like, should she take it on? Certainly, the Parsons family, whose work on these waters dates to 1909, has seen its share of changes.
“All of Barnegat Bay was productive at one time,” Parsons says. “You could take a shell and put it anywhere and oysters would attach to it.” In time, overharvesting, disease and development took a toll. Then beach-replenishment projects delivered a critical blow, filling inlets with sand and obstructing the intertidal flow—a dance between ocean and bay that’s critical to shellfish.