The county-funded scallop restoration project now in its eighth year has been successful at beginning to bring the East End scallop population to the robust density seen before the mid-1980s.
This year, those monitoring scallops within the greater Peconic Estuary are seeing a dramatic increase in the population. They are seeing vast sets of bug (juvenile) scallops, and adult scallops in numbers that rival pre-brown tide populations in some places.
Beginning in 1985, a series of invasions by Aureococcus anophageferrens, brown algae, all but destroyed the resource. Early efforts to bring them back were frustrated by the inability of a disparate brood stock to breed, and this was compounded by the fact that scallops live for only 18 to 22 months, and usually reproduce only once.
Then, in 2004, a county-funded program tried to give scallops a boost by creating protected areas and then seeding them with enough scallops to practically guarantee breeding success. The theory was that spat generated within the spawning sanctuaries eventually would be carried hither and yon to form new “natural” sets.
It’s worked, Stephen Tettlebach, a professor of biology at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, said on Tuesday.
“We’ve been diving and looking at the spat collectors” — the fine screens used to count scallop spat that attaches to them — “and it’s huge, huge, way more than we’ve been seeing. We’ve seen a new record every year. Last year we caught 80,000 spat across 25 sites in the bays over a five-and-a-half-month period. This year, in our first sampling of 25 stations we had 131,000 — huge numbers. That’s the fruit of all that labor,” Mr. Tettlebach said on Tuesday as he was preparing to take the second count of the season.
Mr. Tettlebach said baymen were reporting large numbers of bug scallops well outside the spawning areas. Bugs measuring 6 millimeters three weeks ago were now 15 millimeters, he said. The county scallop monitors regularly check the waters of Orient Harbor, Hallock Bay, Northwest Harbor, Southold Bay, and Hog Neck Bay, all of which have spawner sanctuaries.
The marine biologist said he was not sure if last winter’s mild conditions have played a role. “It may have contributed to better reproductive conditions.” Dives made by his team last spring showed “the highest adult densities since the early ’90s, not just in one place but in several bays. We felt those densities were above critical mass — 35 to 30 percent higher than when the spawner program began — needed to get a really big spawn. That’s what’s going on now.”
The scallop season for state waters will start on the first Monday in November, Nov. 5. Town waters will be open to scallop fishermen on Nov. 19.