Massive scallop mortality prompts new breeding effort

A massive Peconic Bay scallop kill in June and July spurred new initiatives to help the recovery of the hard-hit East End scallop industry.

This is the fourth consecutive year of historically low scallop harvests. Annual scallop catches in 2020 and 2021 averaged just 3% of those in 2017 and 2018, according to a statement from Riverhead-based Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

CCE researchers attribute the mass mortalities to high levels of disease exacerbated by higher water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen levels and the physiological stress of spawning by adult scallops at mid water temperatures higher.

Sorted scallops. / Photo by Rory MacNish/CEC

To help reverse the trend of mass mortalities, aquaculture experts from CCE’s Suffolk Marine Program and Stony Brook University are jointly undertaking two breeding initiatives focusing on selective breeding.

The first initiative began this spring when CEC aquaculture specialist Harrison Tobi and shellfish ecologist Stephen Tettelbach spent several days diving in search of adult scallops that had survived the 2021 die-off. now, these selected scallops, known as “broodstock,” have been used by CCE to produce over 20,000 new scallops for continued genetic work and over 240,000 for ongoing restoration work supported by Suffolk County.

The second initiative, led by Tobi and the CCE Suffolk Shellfish Hatchery, plans to spawn adult bay scallops in the fall. Fall offspring appear to survive the winter better than those born earlier in the year and the new research will examine whether scallops laid in the fall can withstand summer conditions and survive until harvest season. next fall.

“Cornell Cooperative Extension is proud to partner with Suffolk County and Stony Brook University to restore our region’s scallop harvest to its former vibrancy,” said Vanessa Pino Lockel, Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk, in the release. “Our local fisheries play a vital role in Suffolk County’s economy, and CCE’s team of world-class marine experts are dedicated to helping these fisheries reach their full potential.”

The fall harvest season is likely to impact many local baymen.

“It’s devastating. In some years, bay scallops make up 50% of our income,” Peter Wenczel, a bayman from Southold, said in the statement. “There are a lot of people who are really going to suffer.”

Mike Inzone, a bai and fish farmer from Ronkonkoma, said scalloping is what the bai love to make.

“It’s a passion, not a job. Baymen relies on scallop fishing to put food on the table,” Inzone said in the statement. “Without the work of Cornell Cooperative Extension to understand why the scallops are dying – and without their work to restore them and give us hope – there will be nothing to sustain this passion.”

Since 2019, CCE Suffolk scientists have been working closely with SBU researchers to better understand the causes of mass scallop mortality. They monitored wild and planted scallops from Flanders Bay at the western end of the Peconic system to Napeague Harbor at the far east. This research was coupled with continuous monitoring of environmental parameters, as well as pathological analyzes of a recently discovered bay scallop parasite.

While the New York State Bay Scallop District has been officially declared a disaster and has qualified for federal disaster relief funding, this financial support for baymen has so far only not materialized, according to the CCE.

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