2021 season promises to be bleak for Peconic Bay scallops as mortality continues
After signs of hope for a rejuvenation of Peconic Bay scallops in the spring, fishermen on Long Island have seen a decline in prized shellfish throughout the fall, and responses to mortality remain elusive.
This would be the third year in a row that iconic scallops in Peconic and Gardiners bays have died, after near-record catches in 2017 and 2018.
“All dead,” said Bob Bourguignon, a bayman from Flanders who practices clams in the summer and scallops in the fall. “I’m talking to guys in the east who fish where scallops normally are, and they say the scallops are all dead.”
Stephen Tettelbach, shell ecologist for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s marine program, said evidence of another catastrophic death has been confirmed at seven sites he is monitoring from Flanders to Napeague. The results are coming despite what he considered record levels of new juvenile scallops earlier this year, which had given hope for a rebound.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation said it “continues to work” with a special technical review committee for scallops “to determine the factors that may have contributed to the death of scallops and identify the future actions “.
DEC said it was not proposing changes to the bay scallop harvesting regulations. The agency “does not anticipate that many shellfish fishermen will participate in the harvest this season because it would not be economically viable.”
Earlier this year, the US Secretary of Commerce, working with NOAA Fisheries, said the New York Bay scallop fishery in 2019 and 2020 met requirements for a declaration of a “fishery resource disaster.” making the fishery eligible for aid in the event of a fisheries disaster. The funds have not yet been allocated.
Joyce Novak, program director for the Peconic Estuary Partnership, said presentations at a Bay Scallop Working Group meeting on September 1 confirmed the fishermen’s sighting of a death in 2021, despite increased viewing areas and preliminary results from more juvenile scallops earlier this year.
“Death was extreme again,” she said.
Another year of study and research has still not yielded a definitive cause of death. Some of the most advanced hypotheses include suspicions of a parasite, warming waters, decreased dissolved oxygen during the high-stress spawning season, and even an increase in cow-nosed stingrays. predators in local waters.
“Certainly everyone is trying to figure it out,” Novak said. ” … We will find a solution.”
Federal funding will be available not only for fishermen’s losses, but also for habitat restoration and more research, Novak said.
Tettelbach said Cornell, in addition to continuing to study the three main factors suspected of causing mortality (higher water temperatures, disease and spawning stress), is considering a solution possible that could give scallops a second chance.
Cornell is considering a plan to stock the bay with a new generation of scallops that breed in the fall rather than the more stressful summer.
“Scallops born in the fall don’t necessarily spawn next summer, so if they don’t spawn then, the stress of laying is not there,” he said. “There might be a better chance of surviving.”
The Peconic Estuary Program is working on restoration efforts that will give future generations of scallops a fighting chance, including improving the abundance of eelgrass in the bay. But in the meantime, the loss of the scallops is difficult to observe, Novak said.
“It’s absolutely frustrating and heartbreaking,” she said. “The Peconic Bay scallop is so iconic and a key species to this body of water. Watching it happen year after year is truly unsettling and there is no black or white answer which makes it frustrating. . ”
For some, hope for a rebound may never come, at least while they are fishing. Bourguignon, 80, said 2021 was his last year as a bayman. He sold his house in Flanders and moved to South Carolina for good, scallops or no scallops.
“It was a big industry,” he said of bay scallops. “Now it’s nothing. What can you say? This is how it goes. “