Scallop season didn’t begin with its usual bang the first Monday in November thanks to Hurricane Sandy, but fish markets and restaurant menus are stocked with the cold-weather shellfish in time for the holidays.
Before the hurricane, scientists who study bay scallops had been finding many empty shells, known as “cluckers,” in scallop grounds that had promised a bumper crop.
Then, when the hurricane hit, the state DEC pushed off opening day to Nov. 13 due to potential water contamination because of the storm’s flood tide. Many areas in the eastern Peconics were opened sooner after the DEC determined that the water was clean, and the few scallopers who ventured out found plenty of live scallops among the empty shells.
But Phillip Tocci, Riverhead’s “Clam Man” who runs a shellfish stand on the north side of Route 58, said many baymen have told him they’re having trouble selling the scallops they have, because of public concern over whether they’re safe to eat.
“The water is fine. The scallops are fine,” he said this week. “I have people asking constantly ‘Is the water all right? Are the scallops all right?’ The public is not after them like they usually are.”
Mr. Tocci added that many seafood restaurants were damaged in the storm, putting a dent in the wholesale accounts baymen rely on.
He said he hasn’t been catching his limit of 10 bushels of scallops per day, but he has been pulling in enough to meet the market demand.
Southold Fish Market owner Charlie Manwaring said Tuesday that, while there was a big scallop die-off due to unknown causes earlier this year, there are plenty of scallops still in the water.
“Certain areas were closed after the hurricane, so not everyone was in one area opening week,” he said. “They’re doing really well in certain areas. It’s just hit or miss. I think we’ll have them right through to March 31,” the official end of the season.
Mr. Manwaring said baymen are seeing “tons of bugs,” or baby scallops, which will reach harvest size next year.
He said the retail price this week is about $17 per pound, down from $19 when the season opened, although he expects the price to rise again as the supply thins out later in the season.
“Some areas just opened up, so we have a little more product,” he said.
Mr. Manwaring said baymen were lucky that many of this year’s scallops were in deep water, since they are often thrown up on shore by hurricane surges if they are in shallow water.
He said the boats belonging to the 15 to 20 baymen he buys scallops from were also safe during the storm.
“We really got lucky out here,” he said.
Recreational scalloper Ed Densieski of Riverhead missed the first few days of the season, which opened in some local waters on the day of the nor’easter that hit shortly after the hurricane.
“It was nasty,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t go opening day.”
Mr. Densieski said it appears there was a scallop die-off in Cutchogue Harbor and that by the time he got to the scalloping grounds off the Orient Causeway on Nov. 10, “a lot of it was picked through” and he didn’t find any.
“There was definitely some die-off this year, but in some spots they were huge. They were the size of marshmallows,” he said, declining to disclose where he found them.
“If you want to put the time in, you’ll get some,” he said.