Reports of a die-off elsewhere notwithstanding, this season’s East Hampton scallop harvest has been another for the record books. Not only are these succulent shellfish abundant here, some of the individuals are huge, with shucked meats exceeding an inch and a half in length. This is good news for local harvesters and gourmands, and a significant turnaround from the situation only a few years ago when scallops were so few and far between that the commercial harvest was essentially halted. From about 1985, a series of so-called “brown tide” algae blooms devastated the scallop population, forcing some baymen off the water for good.
A simple explanation for the scallops’ resurgence is difficult to come by. One important factor has been the combined efforts of several shellfish hatcheries, including one run by the Town of East Hampton and another by Cornell Cooperative Extension in Southold Town, which restocked many bays and harbors.
All is not well, however. Ominous news in the form of widespread mortality in some parts of the Peconic Estuary came in the fall. A different algae bloom had been cited, though a firm cause remains unknown. And state officials recently added to the list of South Fork water bodies considered impaired by nitrogen pollution, which can contribute to algal blooms. Failing septic systems are a huge problem here, and as sea level rise slowly inundates low-lying areas, maintaining and/or improving water quality will be a challenge.
Some years ago, we wrote in a spirit of hope that scallops might someday be restored — a canary in our coal mine, if you pardon the stretched metaphor. Now that recent local harvests bode well, we must press elected officials for a commitment to keeping scallops — and all other indigenous marine life — a top priority.