Editorial: Moratorium is not in our bays’ best interests

A recent cover story in The Suffolk Times concerned the back-and-forth going on between the growing shellfish industry, which is making a terrific comeback in the Peconic Bay system, and recreational boaters.

Suffolk County’s 10-year-old aquaculture lease program rents sections of bay bottom in Peconic and Gardiners bays to the new community of shellfish growers. The program is a success, with 55 leased locations totaling nearly 800 acres and applications pending for an additional 21 locations.

Recreational boaters and their backers are not saying they don’t want aquaculture in the bays, but they are saying they have concerns that the proliferation of floating gear associated with shellfishing could create navigational difficulties.

The Shelter Island Yacht Club has gone ahead and asked Suffolk County officials to enact a moratorium on new 10-acre leases until a review of the program can examine its impact on recreational boating.

A review of the program is not out of line, certainly, but a moratorium on a growing and popular new industry making its mark in our bays is not a good idea. Officials can make adjustments: They can study what kind of rigs are being used and how and where they are placed and marked, but messing with success does not make good government policy.

Sometimes the best government policy is to get out of the way of hard-working entrepreneurs, who, in this case, are bringing attention to the beauty and fertility of the bays we all love and want to protect. Order a plate of oysters raised in our waters at the fabled Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City and you will know how important this new industry is to our well-being.

This famous restaurant’s oyster menu is five pages long — in small print. Here is just a sample of some of the varieties it lists: Robins Island, Fishers Island, Gardiners Bay, Orient Point, Oyster Ponds, Peconic Bay, Peconic Pride and Pipes Cove.

What a testament this is to our saltwater. What it says is simple and straightforward: Protect our bays and creeks; the world is eating from them at a famous restaurant in New York City — and so many other restaurants.

So what, then, do we make of recreational boaters’ concerns about the oyster farming industry?

In his letter to county officials recommending the moratorium, the Shelter Island Yacht Club’s commodore also wrote that if that were not acceptable, the county should develop “specifications on gear and buoy systems as part of the lease program to mitigate the impact on boaters and sailors.”

That, the commodore said, would minimize surface hazards that could result in boating accidents. This recommendation is worth the county’s attention, even as it is also true that boating safety is up to the boater.

As the shellfishing industry continues to grow, additional leases will come to the county for consideration. They should be approved. None of this is to say that issues such as proper marking of the rigs and, importantly, lighting at night, should not be part of the discussion at the county level.

But the road to success on this matter is not to get in the way of something as good as what is happening in our bays right now by imposing new rules that would put the brakes on this industry. Leaving well enough alone is not, generally speaking, government policy. In this case, it should be.