New Paper Links Scallop Die-Off to Climate Change

The local researchers working to get to the bottom of the die-off of Peconic Bay Scallops for the last three seasons have published their work in the journal Global Change Biology, attributing the die-off to warming temperatures and lack of oxygen in the water.

The article, titled “Warming and Hypoxia Reduce the Performance and Survival of Northern Bay Scallops (Argopecten irradians irradians) Amid a Fishery Collapse,” examined the impacts on a cohort of Peconic Bay scallops deployed at two sites in the Peconic Estuary — in Flanders Bay and Orient Harbor — and two sites in the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts for one month from mid-July to mid-August of 2020. 

Scientists working with Stony Brook University measured environmental factors like water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen, while also monitoring the scallops’ cardiac activity both in the field and in laboratory conditions designed to replicate the conditions observed in the field.

According to the abstract for the paper, “at a New York field site in 2020, all individuals perished during an 8-day estuarine heatwave that coincided with severe diel-cycling hypoxia. Yet at  a  Massachusetts  site  with  comparable  DO  levels  but  lower  daily  mean  temperatures, mortality was not observed.” 

The paper was submitted by researchers Stephen Tomasetti, Brendan Hallinan, Stephen Tettelbach, Nils Volkenborn, Owen Doherty, Bassem Allam and Christopher Gobler.

“Global warming is happening at an uneven pace in space and time. It just so happens that summer water temperatures in the Northeast are increasing at a rate more than three-times the global average, leaving organisms adapted to cooler temperatures endangered,” said Dr. Gobler, the senior author on the paper.

“Commercial shellfisheries are a vital part of our blue economy, and shellfish habitats are changing rapidly,” said Mr. Tomasetti, a SoMAS graduate and the lead researcher on the project, who is currently a visiting professor of environmental studies at Hamilton College. “Mitigating further warming by transitioning to clean energy is critical. But while these global efforts are underway, committing to practices that will improve our local water quality like reducing nutrient pollution is also important.”

While combating warming is a huge task that goes well beyond marine ecosystems, the authors do say that increasing oxygen levels in warming waters could prove helpful.

According to the abstract for the paper, “collectively, these findings suggest that concomitant thermal and hypoxic stress can have detrimental effects on scallop physiology and survival and potentially disrupt entire fisheries. Recovery of hypoxic systems may benefit vulnerable fisheries under continued warming.” — BHY

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

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