With scallop season fully under way now in both state and East Hampton Town waters, reports indicate a good crop, if not quite as good a crop as last year’s for individual harvesters. The dip in the per-boat catch so far is anecdotal; it could be the result of more crews taking to the water or a decline in the scallop population — no one really knows for sure. This raises the question of whether the shellfishery as managed now is sustainable.
The natural population has been augmented significantly with hatchery-raised “bugs,” or juvenile scallops, from the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery and Cornell Cooperative Extension. These ongoing efforts are responsible for placing millions of bugs in East End waters and the effort undoubtedly has helped return the population from the decimation of the brown tide, or algae bloom, years.
New York sets a 20-bushel per day limit for a commercial boat, most of which catch the bivalves by dragging submerged dredges. The maximum take is half that in town waters. These limits represent best guesses at harvest levels that can be maintained over time; we hope the science supporting them is the very best. All concerned, the commercial fishers who depend on scallops to help pay the winter bills and those of us who simply love to eat them, have an interest in making sure this tasty bivalve is around for the long haul.