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Long Island Baymen Sing Blues As Scallop Season Opens

September 16, 1985

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) _ Billy Schultz has harvested clams and scallops from Long Island waters for 29 years, but a massive bloom of algae that killed most of the crop made him decide to pass up today’s opening of scallop season.

″It’s the first time I’ve missed opening day,″ the 49-year-old bayman said. ″But we’ve been dealt a very serious blow this year.″

The culprit was a rare summer-long brown algal bloom that blanketed waters of Peconic Bay, at the eastern end of Long Island, blocking out sunlight and starving and suffocating most of the scallops.

Arnold Leo, the secretary of the town baymen’s association, said he won’t waste his time harvesting scallops during the state season that opens today.

″It’s really pathetic. It’s just not worth it,″ he said. ″And increasingly I’ve been hearing baymen tell their sons they can’t encourage them to go into the business.″

Five years ago, before tainted shellfish became such a frequent problem, Long Island bay scallops made up 44 percent of the national marine landing figures, but now they make up just 15 percent of the total, Larry Penny, town natural resources director, said.

Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts account for most of the balance, he said.

Besides scallop industry woes, baymen have been walloped by water pollution that has tainted the oysters and clams in Great South Bay, on the south shore of Long Island.

″It’s depressing,″ Leo said last week. ″The problems seem to be multiplying.″

Local clammers and baymen now number about 4,500, compared with more than 10,000 a decade ago, said Leo.

Those who have stuck it out are finding it tougher to make a decent living, said Schultz.

Penny estimated baymen’s loss from the summer kill at $1.2 million. But the full loss from the scallop crop’s failure may be as much as $8 million, because middlemen and restaurants are affected, Schultz said.

″It’s a massive disaster,″ Leo said. ″But worse is that the spawn was likely killed so there may be no scallops next year.″

Scallops breed in bay estuaries once a year, making regeneration of a depleted crop difficult, Penny said.

In recent years, scientists have watched the steady decline of the Long Island clam industry, which has fallen from a 700,000-bushel harvest in 1976 to a 178,000-bushel harvest in 1983, the last year for which data were available.

To combat the drop, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has given six towns in Suffolk County a $90,000 grant to start a clam transplant program.

The program involves taking hundreds of bushels of clams dredged from polluted Pelham Bay waters in the Bronx and placing them in clean, protected waters where they can grow and spawn.

″If we move clams out of (polluted waters), they will clean themselves out in two or three weeks,″ said East Hampton bay constable Jeff Havlik.

″From what I’ve seen of the transplanted clams, I’m definitely satisfied. The baymen are definitely satisfied. They’re nice small clams, healthy and marketable,″ Schultz said.

When Havlik checked last week on the clams, which are protected by state law from being harvested while in cordoned areas, he was pleased.

″These clams are nice stuff, so there’s hope there,″ he said. ″But the algae killed a lot of scallops and those that survived don’t have much meat.″

Indeed, Southold postponed the opening of its town scallop season for five weeks until Nov. 1. It also is importing its scallops from South America for the annual town scallop festival because the local crop has been so ravaged.

Success with clam transplants could spill over into other shellfish areas, and may be duplicated with oysters and scallops, Leo said.

″Anything would help,″ Schultz concluded.

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