Eelgrass project abandoned, shellfishing spot to re-open

CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION FILE PHOTO | With an eelgrass project now abandoned in a section of Hallock's Bay in Orient, the spot will open back up to fishermen.

A large section of Hallock’s Bay in Orient will soon be open to shellfishing, after an eelgrass restoration project there was abandoned by Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The Southold Town Trustees changed the town code to close about one-third of the bay to shellfishing five years ago when the study began, and last week the Town Board held a public hearing on changing the code again to re-open the section of the bay.

Chris Pickerell, who specializes in eelgrass habitat restoration for CCE, said his research group had tried several times to hand broadcast eelgrass seeds there. Each time, the grass grew strongly and steadily until the hot weather of mid-summer caused the young shoots to all die.

“It’s a function of lack of light, high summer water temperatures and issues relating to sediment texture,” he said. “All those things apply to Hallock’s Bay. We tried to plant it several times. It never worked in there.”

Mr. Pickerell said muddy bay bottoms like the one in Hallock’s Bay have proved to not be good places to grow eelgrass, and his research group is now planting only in sandy, cooler areas, including two successful beds in Greenport Harbor and off Paradise Point, as well as at several locations in Long Island Sound.

Mr. Pickerell said his group often hand broadcasts seeds before setting eelgrass transplants in an area, because the success of the hand broadcast seeds often gives them a better idea of whether the transplants will thrive there.

“We sometimes prospect with seeds,” he said. “We look for areas where they’ll take. We never found that spot in Hallock’s Bay.”

A public hearing to open the study area back up to shellfishing was held by the Southold Town Board on Jan. 3.

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Read more about the re-opening of Hallock’s Bay in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.