North Fork baymen will set out for scallops Monday

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Seeding for scallops on Peconic Bay.

After last year’s banner scallop season, which many believe was the best since the brown tide all but wiped out the scallop population in 1985, baymen and researchers are cautiously optimistic about the prospects for this season, which opens tomorrow, Monday.

“Things look pretty good, but I don’t know that we will quite get to the harvest of last year,” said Dr. Stephen Tettlebach, a professor at Long Island University and one of the lead researchers in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Peconic Bay Scallop Restoration Program.

He has a team of divers who monitor about 25 scallop hot spots throughout the Peconic bays.

Dr. Tettelbach said he believes baymen may have landed about 100,000 pounds of bay scallops last season — up from an official DEC tally of 19,000 pounds for 2010 — though he’s quick to caution that his estimates will likely be higher than the official forecasts.

“People’s expectations change as things get better. They hope that they’ll be even better the next year,” he said.

Last year, a large number of scallopers dredged the waters on the west side of Robins Island, just south of Cutchogue. Dr. Tettelbach said he doubts that area will be a hot spot this year.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be as good this year as the prior two years,” he said. “Last year on opening day, an estimated 50 to 70 boats were working the west side of Robins Island. I’m sure lots of people will be looking there, but we just didn’t see that many bugs [baby scallops] there when we did our surveys. It’s typical that an area will be really good one year and the next year it won’t.”

Dr. Tettelbach said Flanders Bay, which was also a hot spot last year, doesn’t seem to have as many scallops as the past two years either. He said that might be in part because his group has not been able to seed scallops into Flanders Bay in the past two years.

Longtime scalloper Ed Densieski of Riverhead shares Dr. Tettelebach’s concerns. He said he’s spent eight to 10 hours on the water throwing in his dredges and throwing back his catch in order to determine where he’d like to scallop when the season opens.

“I have found some pockets, but I’m not sure it’s going to be as good as last year,” Mr. Densieski said. “I had high hopes it was going to be better, but I’m not 100 percent convinced yet.”

Mr. Densieski said that, last year, he knew exactly where he wanted to pull his dredges on opening day, but this year he’s still not sure.

“I work from Flanders Bay to Orient Harbor. I’m not sure where I’m going to be going,” he said. “They’re out there. The goal is to find them.”

Mary Bess Phillips, who owns Alice’s Fish Market in Greenport, said she’s heard a mixed bag of reports on the health of scallop beds. But she does know that a lot of people are planning to try their luck at scalloping opening week.

“They’re seeing in the papers that there are all these bugs out there, but we won’t know anything until Monday,” she said.

Ms. Phillips said that there isn’t great retail demand for scallops beyond opening week, since prices routinely top $20 per pound. She said that, at that price and in this economy, many consumers will only buy scallops once a season, early on, as a treat. Because of the low demand, she said many markets are limiting the amount of scallops they buy. And with more baymen chasing fewer scallops, they might not find enough to make a living by scalloping beyond the first few weeks of the season.

“The economy is going to play a big role,” she said

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