There is a silver lining to the prolonged winter for local fishermen and seafood lovers: Bay scallop season has been extended an extra month to help area fishermen recoup losses contributed to the brutally cold weather.
Early Monday morning, under cover of darkness and beneath a star-lit sky, Ed Densieski and Gary Joyce boarded their custom-outfitted boat, dressed head to toe in vibrant all-weather gear.
Unfazed by the blustery chill, the pair headed out through Southold Bay, with Brick Cove Marina at their backs.
It was the start of their 16th scalloping season and, as Mr. Densieski said, “There’s only one opening day.” (more…)
• The scallop can be found in bays from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico and even in Nova Scotia. Locally, bay scallops are found mostly in the Peconics, Great South Bay, Moriches Bay and Shinnecock Bay. (more…)
The folks working to rebuild the stock of Peconic Bay scallops have a new best friend in the state government.
Researchers at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Peconic Bay scallop restoration program, based at Cornell’s Cedar Beach, Southold, marine laboratory, had a special visit Friday afternoon from Kenneth Adams, commissioner of the Empire State Development Corporation. The corporation awarded a $182,000 grant earlier this year toward the continuing scallop project.
Lead researchers Dr. Stephen Tettelbach of Long Island University and Dr. Chris Smith of Cornell said they’ve used the funds to expand the hatchery and hire additional employees to help grow scallops to full size in the lab.
“We’ve increased production in our hatchery,” said Dr. Tettelbach. “We plan to grow the scallops from spring to market size in the fall. This is the first time it’s being done in New York State. Other states are selling cultured scallops.”
Dr. Tettelbach said the scallops, which are smaller than wild scallops, will likely be sold whole in the shell.
“It’s a different way of marketing, a different market niche,” he said.
Since scallops are short-lived, usually living no more than two years, their contribution to the population is limited to one spawning season.
Dr. Smith said program researchers have also used grant funds to expand their long-line grow-out system in Orient Harbor. In that system, scallop larvae collect on a mesh surface inside an aerated bag that protects them from predators. Initially, researchers were using the bags, known as spat collectors, as a tool to quantify the number of scallops in the bay. They’re now using them as nurseries for scallops cultivated by humans.
“We’re now using Japanese techniques where you use spat collectors to produce numbers of scallops,” he said. “It’s increasing our capability of spawning and growing scallops.”
Mr. Adams said his office had received marching orders from Governor Andrew Cuomo to provide $785 million in grants by asking regional Economic Development Corporations for advice on the most crucial projects in their areas, instead of having the state dictate where the money would go. More than 700 grants were awarded.
Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council and a former head of the Long Island Power Authority, brought the scallop project to Mr. Adams’ attention.
“This is an incredible, historical, vital natural asset,” Mr. Adams said of the scallop fishery. “Fisheries are a very important part of the regional economy. How would I know about this project sitting back in Albany?
“It really worked well,” he added. “I’d like to think this is the beginning of a long and healthy relationship.”
“I think scallops brought us over the line,” Mr. Law said Friday afternoon at a ceremony on a barge overlooking the laboratory. “Everybody had high tech, but nobody else had scallops.”
Dr. Smith estimated that the scallop industry, which had a negligible economic value for years after the brown tide destroyed the fishery in 1985, brought $3 million in economic activity to the region in 2010 after his research team helped to rebuild the fishery. He estimated the 2010 numbers were about 10 percent of the value of the industry before the brown tide hit.
Dr. Smith said his group hopes to continue building the number of scallops in the bays until there are three to five scallops per square meter on the bottom.
“I think we’re within a few years of that,” he said.
“Can you do lobsters next?” asked Mr. Adams.
“Lobsters are a whole different story,” said Dr. Smith.
It’s hard to top last year’s scallop season, but the fishermen who hung in there plying the waters these last several months say they weren’t disappointed and expect great things again next year.
“It was a great season, the best season since I started,” said Ed Densieski of Riverhead, who scallops part-time from opening day in November to the season’s close at the end of March. “There are plenty of bugs [baby scallops] out there. I’m thinking next year’s going to be a great year.”
Mr. Densieski said that while opening day was “a zoo” at scalloping hot spots, he saw an average of two to three boats out each day throughout the season.
“I just moved around. I’d work one spot and then another,” he said. “We were lucky to keep finding some. It wasn’t cold. There was no ice to deal with. It was a great year.”
Billy Hands of Orient, who scallops in his free time when he’s not working at the Orient Service Center, agrees.
“I thought it was good and plenty to eat!” he said. “There are lots of bugs out there right now and as long as the summer doesn’t produce a brown tide and water temperatures stay normal, then it should be a great season in November 2012.”
Researcher Stephen Tettelbach, an LIU professor who works with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Peconic Bay scallop restoration program, said he’s heard mixed reports from baymen this year. He added, however, that he believes many more people were scalloping this year than last year, after word got out that it was expected to be a good year.
“On opening day, the numbers of baymen on the water were in the hundreds,” he said. “I think there was more effort expended this year. It may have spread it around a little more than previous years.”
Mr. Tettelbach said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has not yet released the number of scallops caught in calendar year 2010, so it will be quite some time until this year’s catch is quantified.
He said he saw many bugs on the bottom last fall and has heard the same from baymen. Bugs are immature scallops less than one year old. Scallops are large enough to be harvested in their second year, after which they die.
“There’s a real buzz about lots of bugs out there. People are seeing very high concentrations,” Mr. Tettelbach said.
He added that one scalloper he knows recently reported that the scallops are fatter and healthier looking than usual for this time of year.
That may be weather related, he said. Because of higher water temperatures, scallops were able to feed on algae during February, when they’re usually in a semi-hibernating state. That’s good for the harvest, but how it might affect the shellfish’s post-season survival is another matter.
“The crunch time that we’ve seen for scallops dying off naturally occurs in April,” said Mr. Tettelbach. “Their metabolic demands are increasing and there may not be as much food around as they need at that time. That seems to be a real critical period of the year.”
Mr. Densieski said he worries that warm temperatures could lead to damaging algae blooms like the brown tide, which nearly wiped out the scallop population in the mid-1980s.
Mr. Tettelbach said there’s no way of knowing how the scallops might do in the short term, particularly this month.
“Time will tell whether that happens at the same rate this year as in the past,” he said.