After disappointing scallop seasons in 2019, ’20, outlook remains bleak heading into November harvest
In June, Matt Ketcham was harvesting oysters at his Southold Bay underwater farm, when he saw the welcome sight of mature bay scallops in his oyster cages. (He rejected them.) He had also noticed a lot of scallop spat; babies born during annual spawning. These are promising signs for the 2021 bay scallop harvest which begins on the first Monday in November. But at the end of August, he couldn’t see any scallops.
Mr Ketcham was not the only bayman to see hope in 2021, particularly welcome after the abject disappointment of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Those failed harvests led the US Secretary of Commerce to declare that the scallop fishery in the New York Bay was considered a disaster for fisheries resources, making it eligible for disaster assistance.
Last week, Steve Tettelbach, head of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Peconic Bay scallop restoration program, completed a series of dives at Flanders’ seven sites in Montauk where he and his research team conducted an ongoing census. bay scallops, monitoring the number of scallops and comparing them in May, June, July and late August.
“At six of our seven sites, the average density decreased from 64% to 99% between May and the end of August, and the highest mortality occurred at the three sites with the highest initial densities in spring 2021” , said Tettelbach. Only the Napeague Harbor site experienced an increase in the number of bay scallops during the summer.
Bay scallops in New York waters are believed to live for about 18 months. Why have bay scallops in the Peconic Bay System mass died prematurely months for three consecutive years?
There is growing evidence that a microscopic parasite, detected by Dr Bassem Allam of Stony Brook University in scallops from Martha’s Vineyard and Peconic Berries, is causing adult scallops to succumb before their time. ‘they are stressed by high water temperatures. In the samples tested this year, there was “a clear finding of heavily infected animals disappearing from the population,” Dr Allam said. âThe water temperature seems to be a major factor. Whether it’s the water warming up sooner or just warmer, we’re not sure.
The water temperature also created more attractive conditions for cownose stingrays, a bay scallop predator that helped eliminate wild bay scallops in North Carolina years ago. Late summer incursions by schools of cownose rays have been reported in Peconic Bay over the past two years, and a survey by Mr. Tettelbach’s team of trapped fishermen has revealed reports of rays this summer as well, but not in numbers that would explain the scallop deaths observed so far.
At Alice’s Fish Market in Greenport, owner Nate Phillips isn’t jumping to conclusions about whether he’ll fish and sell scallops in November and December. âAt this time of year, we’re all talking both ways. We make our decisions in October, whether to fish something else or try again. It only takes a few days to prepare to catch scallops. I will do some scouting around the beginning of October.
Whether to stick it out and work on the scallops, or go for sea bass, blackfish, and porgies before they leave the bay for the winter, depends in part on how long the water in the berries stays hot enough for the fish to stick to. around – ironic when you consider that hotter water in the summer can limit the scallop harvest.
Shelter Island’s Bayman Sawyer Clark is also taking a wait-and-see approach on the bay’s scallops. âYes they are dying like the last two years,â he said in a text message. âI don’t know what I’m going to fish in November and December. We can only hope that they don’t all die.