Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In the News: Strong comeback for a local crop

Restoring the once-great shellfisheries of the Harbor Bight is no simple task, but with the assistance of local law-makers, scientists and conservation organizations some bivalves are on their way to returning to a healthy equilibrium in the Great South Bay and Peconic Estuary. For decades, shellfishing was a way of life in many coastal communities. However, with excessive coastal development and overharvesting of the fishery, the stocks plummeted leaving many without jobs and an ecosystem without several key species. Now conservation plans are beginning to take root, but it will be many years until bivalves like the scallop return to abundance writes Newsday. JB

By T.W. Farnam
July 25, 2006

Long Island baymen caught 6,000 pounds of scallops last year, triple the haul of the previous year and more than for any year since 1997, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Last year's harvest was also particularly widespread, with some areas producing that haven't had scallops in decades.

"What's interesting and intriguing about this is that we're not just seeing scallops in one area," said Gordon Colvin, head of marine resources for the department. "It's exactly what you need -- you need to have as much of the available habitat range being occupied.

"Baymen found scallops in areas of the Great South Bay and Flanders Bay farther west than they have been since 1985, the year that a "brown tide" -- a fast-spreading algae bloom -- decimated the shellfish and much of the submerged eel grass that sheltered them, scientists said.

"Yeah, there were a few more scallops last year," said Kenny Clark, 46, of Shelter Island. He was able to catch scallops into the beginning of January last season. "We'll just see about next year," he said.

Colvin cautioned that the results of one year's scallop harvest do not mean a permanent resurgence, as the shellfish must re-create their entire population each year and scallop reproduction is dependent on a number of environmental factors.

Even with last year's big harvest, Long Island's bay scallops are a long way from their former bounty; last year's catch was less than 2 percent of the average for the two decades before the first brown tide, according to the department.

Peconic Bay scallops were once the prize catch of East End baymen. From 1964 through 1985, baymen harvested an average 338,463 pounds of scallops annually, with a dockside value of $3.3 million, in 2005 dollars; last year, they caught 6,070 pounds, with a value of $153,258.

To bring back the scallops, regulators and scientists created two new spawning grounds in Orient Harbor and Northwest Harbor, in hopes that a dense spawning area -- with lots of scallops dropped in the water there -- will mean more successful mating and that large numbers of larvae will be able to outlast predators' attacks. He was able to catch scallops into the beginning of January last season. "We'll just see about next year," he said.

Read more:

Additional Coverage: Health of bays gets iffy grade

Peconic Estuary Program

South Shore Estuary Program

Google Map of Great South Bay and Peconic Estuary

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