Governor Calls for Federal Help With Scallop Crisis

Pictured Above: Two lone scallopers off of North Sea on opening day of scallop season in November.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Dec. 6 calling for federal action to help New York’s scallop fishery following the sudden and significant die-off of adult scallops in the Peconic Bay this year.

In his letter, Mr. Cuomo requested that the U.S. Commerce Department declare the bay scallop fishery a commercial fishery failure and provide direct economic relief for the New York fishing industry, and for finding answers to what caused the die-off.

“New York is actively working to determine the cause of the recent bay scallop die-off and this federal designation would help our efforts to support commercial fisherman while addressing the population loss,” said Mr. Cuomo. “We will continue to lead innovative programs to improve water quality and restore valuable shellfish populations. Protecting and enhancing New York’s marine environment is vital to maintain robust economies in coastal communities that rely on healthy ecosystems and stable fisheries.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is studying the cause of the die-off, which is believed by scientists who’ve been studying the scallops to have been caused by warm water temperatures and high dissolved oxygen levels at the time the scallops were stressed by spawning.

The Peconic Estuary, which is the heart of the Peconic Bay scallop’s ecosystem, is a federally protected estuary within the National Estuary Program.

This year’s catastrophic loss of more than 90 percent of adult bay scallops in the Peconic Bays affects both commercial baymen and local seafood dealers and markets.

In 2017 and 2018, bay scallop landings in the Peconic Bay Estuary exceeded 108,000 pounds, with a dockside value of $1.6 million, according to the governor’s office. Early season population surveys predicted another great harvest ahead, but by early fall, the fishery collapsed.

The federal support requested by Governor Cuomo would provide economic assistance to scallop fishermen and support monitoring and restoration efforts necessary to rehabilitate the fishery. 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stony Brook University, and other partners to research and identify contributing factors that may have played a role in the die-off.

The DEC, CCE, and Suffolk County worked successfully together to restore New York’s bay scallop population when it was decimated in the 1980s due to repeated brown tide algae blooms.

New York State is also participating in a Peconic Estuary Program technical committee that is bringing together experts to review the available data and current assessments to help determine the cause of the die-off, as well as future research and monitoring needs; exploring the restoration of the wild bay scallop population through expansion of seeding and seed production; working to expand current scallop monitoring efforts for improved estimates on population, size, health, and resiliency; and examining the potential for the development of superior strains of bay scallops that are more resistant to biological and environmental stressors (such as high temperature related to climate change) to support the long-term restoration and success of bay scallops in Peconic Bay.

The DEC is also expediting requests for its Scallop Salvage and Relay Permits if needed to move scallop populations to protect them from washing up on the shoreline and increase their survival through the winter. 

The “DEC is steadfast to expand research, monitoring, and restoration efforts to augment and enhance bay scallop populations on Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The recent die-off in Peconic Bay has once again demonstrated the reality of climate change that will have rippling effects on our local communities.”

“Shellfish farming has been a part of Long Island’s heritage for decades, but with this year’s collapse of the Peconic Bay Scallop population, nearly 1,700 Long Island bayman, dealers, shippers, and shuckers are left reeling with financial hardship,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

The state has taken a serious interest recently in advocating for shellfishing on Long Island, including the governor’s $10.4 million Long Island Shellfish Restoration Project, underway to establish five shellfish sanctuary sites stocked with up to 168 million local-grown and harvested shellfish, juvenile and adult shellfish.

Governor Cuomo also announced that in next year’s State of the State address, he will introduce an aggressive nation-leading habitat initiative called “Revive Mother Nature.”

Revive Mother Nature will support critical environmental restoration efforts, to help increase fish and wildlife habitat while also making communities more resilient in the face of climate change and severe weather.

Beth Young

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at [email protected]

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