This year’s Peconic Bay scallop harvest is starting off with one of the strongest yields in years, according to local seafood markets and baymen.
“It’s definitely a pretty impressive year,” said Charlie Manwaring, owner of Southold Fish Market. During the first week, in fact, so many baymen brought in their 10-bushel limit that he and other market operators asked them to hold off bringing in more so that they could catch up with the oversupply, which strained their ability to shuck and sell the mounds of shellfish.
With the increased crop, it has also been tough to find good openers, said retailers and baymen.
“It was a different world between fishing, clamming, scalloping and oystering,” Braun Seafood owner Ken Homan said. Some 30 years ago, he said, many baymen had their own scallop shops where they sold what they harvested.
“They were able to make a living, a full-time living, and they opened their owns scallops at home,” Mr. Homan said.
Many scallop openers from those days are just not around anymore, added Braun Seafood manager Keith Reda.
Dealing with a considerable bounty of scallops this season also affects their cost to consumers, driving prices down and offering customers a good deal on a fresh, local product.
“That’s one of the reasons we told baymen to hold off, too, as we can only process so much in a day and at the same point there’s only so much business out there to buy them,” Mr. Reda said. “So if everybody’s pushing out these low-priced scallops, the people are just going to wait until it goes lower and lower.”
“It’s a tough thing because you want to satisfy everybody — the customer, the baymen and the employees,” Mr. Homan added. “We’re in the middle.”
For his part, Mr. Manwaring said the prices have brought in customers, some coming out from Manhattan to get their hands on scallops at the start of the season and to buy more than in years past. His crew in the retail shop is being kept busy on weekends, he said.
“Last year people would buy one pound; they’ll buy two or three pounds this year,” Mr. Manwaring said. “It’s kind of cool to see that, too. It kind of stimulates everybody and keeps everybody busy,”
Some pointed out that the 2014 season also offered a sizable harvest.
But part-time bayman Ed Densieski, a former Riverhead Town councilman, said this year is the best he’s seen since 2000.
Stephen Tettelbach, professor of biology at LIU and co-leader of the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s scallop restoration program, said he’s witnessed some of the biggest scallops he’s seen in 30 years, a point with which Mr. Reda agreed.
“This year is definitely, I think, more volume,” Mr. Reda said. “There seem to be quite a few scallops in a lot of different areas, which is a really good thing because guys can kind of spread out across the bay.”
Mr. Tettelbach also pointed to scallop populations being widely distributed throughout the bay as a good sign because sometimes the scallops will survive in a spot one year, but not the next.
“When you have lots and lots of populations in different parts of the bay succeeding, that strengthens the overall picture going forward,” Mr. Tettelbach said.
But a hefty harvest this year does not necessarily mean there will be one next season, he noted.
“Having a good harvest is always welcome news, but given the life cycle, the life history, of the bay scallop, it’s really a year-to-year thing,” he said.
Most of the scallops survive to reproduce once, then die after they spawn. The following year’s harvest is dependent upon the offspring that are produced and are around at the end of this year’s season, which ends March 31, he explained.
Southold Town Baymen’s Association president Nate Andruski said he anticipates a steady season through March, giving baymen the opportunity to make money all winter.
“It’s gonna be good, there’s a lot of stuff around,” Mr. Andruski said. “It’s gonna be a good winter for the guys who do it for a living. You’re gonna be able to scratch all the way to the end of the season for the most part.”
Top photo: Scallop openers at work at Braun Seafood in Cutchogue Tuesday morning. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)