The Scallops Are Amorous

Our bay scallops, which many chefs and gourmets cherish as the most succulent and the sweetest in the world, are a commodity that can fluctuate wildly
Scallops that were too small for harvesting last season are getting ready to spawn in our local waters. Jon M. Diat

It’s bit premature to start talking about bay scallops. After all, the season doesn’t get underway until Nov. 6 in state waters. But at about this time of the year, last season’s scallops that were too small for harvesting — scallops must be at least two and a quarter inches in length from midhinge to midbill and have an annual growth ring — are getting ready to have some fun in the bays and will begin to spawn (they will do the dirty deed again in September). And those offspring, more commonly known as “bugs,” that survive and grow to maturity will be the ones that can be harvested in November of 2018, as a scallop has a very short lifespan of just 18 months. 

Our bay scallops, which many chefs and gourmets cherish as the most succulent and the sweetest in the world, are a commodity that can fluctuate wildly. They are very delicate and sensitive creatures that are subject to a wide variety of predators and conditions that can easily disrupt their supply from year to year. Enormous fluctuations in the New York State annual harvest have been the norm — 168,674 pounds in 1973 followed by 678,417 pounds the next year. But starting in the early 1980s, repeated brown tides and algae blooms significantly decreased the harvest, and catches have never returned to their historically high levels.

A particularly long-lasting, dark brown tide during the summer of 1996 suffocated just about every scallop and by 1997 the state recorded a scallop harvest of zero. Last season’s statistics are not in yet, but by all accounts, it was a big dud. Harvests were scarce just about everywhere and prices soared to upward of $45 a pound in some local fish markets when they were even available. As the season dragged into winter until its close at the end of March, very few boats could be seen plying our East End bays to dredge up a bushel or two for a hard day’s pay. 

But last season did provide a glimmer of hope for the upcoming season, as hordes of bugs were seen in many locations on the East End, in particular in the Peconics. And the few dozen of those little guys I transplanted and sprinkled around my boat slip last November also seemed to have survived the winter in good condition. However, whether Mother Nature will cooperate over the next few months to ensure they survive remains to be seen. A lot can happen between now and November that will ultimately determine whether we will witness an improved scallop harvest later this fall and signs of hope for the season after that.

Here’s to a successful spawn and clean water this summer so that we can continue to savor this treasured shellfish that we are so fortunate to have in our backyard. Only time will tell.

Changing from shellfish to finfish, fishing improved sharply on several fronts, especially for those targeting striped bass. Big stripers were the talk of the town, especially inside the Peconics, where fish over 40 pounds were landed. Those sharpies fishing at night had the edge on the larger fish, which have been suckers for drifted live bunker or large swimming plugs trolled slowly.

“Big stripers are around from Cedar Point westward to the ferry slip and Jessup’s,” said Ken Morse of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “Tom Federico weighed in a nice 38-pounder and I’ve heard that some even larger fish have been landed.” Morse remarked that the local fluke action remains spotty, but that weakfish catches have been consistent in Noyac Bay. Blowfish, or bottlefish as they are sometimes called — one of our most underrated local species — can be had casting from shore at Long Beach on Noyac Bay. Try a piece of clam or squid on a small hook to catch a tasty dinner. As a bonus, blue-claw crabs are making an early season surprise in some of the back cove areas.

By all accounts, striped bass fishing at Montauk has been very consistent for trollers and jiggers alike. Fluke fishing has been a pick, while the porgy bite off Gardiner’s remains strong, with fish of mixed sizes. Also, some cod can be found on some of the deepwater ledges and rock piles south and east of the Lighthouse. For those with strong arms and plenty of line on their reel, the Viking Star went out on a four-day, long-range offshore trip last week. Catches were mixed between an assortment of deepwater denizens, including tilefish, wreckfish, barrelfish, and white hake. The largest fish taken was a 48-pound tilefish caught by Jason Kudo of Brooklyn. Some good eats there.

Action on striped bass and blues in and along Gerard Drive and Accabonac Harbor continues, according to Sebastian Gorgone, proprietor of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. Porgies are still residing in Cherry Harbor and small stripers can be had off the ocean sand beaches. Three Mile Harbor has small stripers, and a few kingfish and blowfish, too, for good measure.

Fishing action, according to Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, remains solid on several species, especially supersize bluefish. “There are hordes of horrendously big bluefish being landed,” Bennett said. “One customer pulled an 18-pounder out of the surf the other day.” Beware of those teeth. He also said that fluking remains red hot near the entrance to Accabonac Harbor and that the porgy bite continues in Cherry Harbor. 

Bennett, a big baseball fan, is also in the process of collecting used baseball gloves, or, as he likes to call them, mitts. As part of the Amagansett Sportfishing Association, he hopes to ship a box of the leather goods to underprivileged children in the Dominican Republic, which has a long history of producing many big leaguers. “It’s such a poor country, but even a used mitt can bring so much happiness there,” he said. Check the back of your closet or the corner of your basement. That glove or mitt can have a second life. 

On a final note, it seems that scallops are not the only marine species in the amorous mood lately. On Friday morning, several members of the Star staff witnessed a large number of carp frolicking on the surface of Hook Pond. The commotion in the pond was intense. So focused were the fish on their task at hand that they could easily be netted standing at the edge of the pond, if so desired. Love is in the air, it seems.  


We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at fish@ehstar.com. You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.

Spawning carp were active in East Hampton’s Hook Pond last week, as the water level and temperature reached points to their liking. David E. Rattray, editor of The East Hampton Star, netted one from among the reeds near the Main Beach parking lot on Friday. Russell Bennett