Scientists surveying the bottom of local bays say that there are no signs of a broad die-off of scallops this summer, as there was in 2012—and that prospects for a good scallop harvest this fall are high.
“We are seeing a lot of scallops out there,” said Dr. Steve Tettlebach, a marine science professor and researcher at Long Island University-C.W Post. “There have been decent numbers in most of the spots we’ve dove on so far, and, more importantly, we’re not seeing any evidence a mass die-off like we did last year. So that is very good news.”
The scientist, who has been leading surveys of the annual scallop “set” each year for more than a decade, said that there was some scallop mortality over the summer, but that it was more in line with the usual natural attrition expected, rather than the massive losses—as much as 90 percent in some places—seen last year.
Dr. Tettlebach and his team conduct two annual surveys of more than 30 locations from East Hampton to Riverhead, in Gardiners Bay, the Peconics, and in tributary creeks and harbors of each. The surveys are done in the spring and again in the early fall. He said this year’s surveys will be completed by the end of the month, just before the start of the scallop harvest, which begins the first week of November in state waters.
The spring surveys this year showed a fairly robust number of young-of-the-year scallops in many areas. Compared to years past, Dr. Tettlebach said, this year’s stock appears to be on par with some of the larger ones. While surveys from some areas revealed lower densities than they have in the past, others were much higher.
Based on the surveys from the spring, the anticipated stock was about two-thirds of the giant set that had been seen in the spring of 2012. That bountiful set had spurred glowing optimism among baymen and shellfish scientists about the prospects of scallops finally rebounding from the devastation of the “brown tide” blooms in the 1980s and 1990s.
But the summer of 2012 was not kind to the scallops. In most of the Peconics and in Gardiners Bay, the scallops were all but wiped out. They seemed to have survived in large numbers in only a handful of enclosed embayments—most notably, Cold Spring Harbor in Southampton, and Napeague Harbor—which had to support the harvest for commercial baymen in the two South Fork towns.
The die-off last year was blamed on a bloom of “red tide,” a species of reddish-brown organisms that have been shown to kill fish and shellfish if they come in prolonged contact. In 2012, after a warm and wet winter, the blooms of red tide were denser and spread farther across the Peconics and Gardiners Bay than had ever been seen before.
A cold winter in 2013 and cool spring and early summer seem to have tamped down the blooms of red tide this year, though they were still dense in Shinnecock Bay and the Peconics and were blamed for the die-off of fish caught in pound traps.
“Whatever the reason, we’re not seeing a repeat of last year, thankfully,” Dr. Tettlebach said. “The biggest die-offs last year were in Greenport Harbor. There’s no evidence there of a larger-than-normal die-off this year. Last year was extreme—I don’t think I’d ever seen anything that bad other than the brown tide years.”