Obscure law prohibits scalloping on Sundays

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | A fisherman catches scallops in the bay.

It has been a good year for scalloping off Robins Island just south of New Suffolk. Nearly every morning at the crack of dawn, scallopers in pickup trucks, with their boats trailered behind, line up at the boat ramp at the corner of First and Jackson streets, waiting their turn to disembark on a day’s work.

But on Sunday mornings, the boat ramp is eerily quiet. Not a truck backs into the water, not a single scallop boat sets off, not a single dredge combs the bay floor.

Ask a commercial scalloper why and the answer you’ll get is a simple shrug.

You can rake for clams on Sunday, you can go crabbing and you can find yourself some oysters, but it’s illegal to use a scallop dredge on Sundays under both Southold and Riverhead town laws and those of New York State.

It’s been that way since anyone here can remember.

If you want to gather scallops on Sunday with your hands or with a net, you can go right ahead. But if you want to get any quantity of scallops here, you’re going to need to use a dredge.

There are plenty of obscure laws on the books in this country. You can’t hum on Sunday in Cicero, Ill., and you can’t bring a lion to the movies in Baltimore. And though it might be an easy guess to say that the Sunday ban on scalloping is a holdover from blue laws enacted by Puritan-minded forefathers to limit work on Sunday, people who work the water here have other ideas.

Southold Town Trustee Jim King believes that the law may have resulted from a conflict between commercial scallopers, who worked the waters all week, and recreational scallopers, who often have just one or two days free on the weekend.

“They were probably trying to make it so there was a day when recreational people could go scalloping,” said Mr. King.
Former Riverhead Town Board member Ed Densieski is a part-time bayman and he scallops only on Saturdays because he’s busy during the week.

He had another theory: “I assumed they didn’t want to pay law enforcement Sunday wages to check all the boats out there,” he said of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “I’ve heard that they just wanted to let the bay rest for a day after people had been dragging dredges all week, but I know how the state of New York operates. I think it’s all about money.”

Mr. Densieski is content fishing and clamming on Sundays. He can wander the shoreline with a “look box” to peer into the water and find scallop beds, and then scoop them off the bay floor with a crab net. But chances are he can’t scratch together even a single meal using that method.

“There’ve been times in the past with certain winds that you could go on the beach and get gazillions,” he said. “That was before my time.”

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