The harvest of bay scallops this year is looking to be one of the worst in several years as baymen and recreational gatherers have struggled to find more than a scattered few pockets of harvestable shellfish across the East End.
State controlled waters and those in Southampton Town opened last week, while East Hampton opened its waters on Sunday, and the returns from the chilly waters were dismal.
“I managed to get my share, I suppose—but I don’t think it will be worth going back,” said Tom Hornig, an East Hampton resident who scratched together about three-quarters of a bushel—150-200 individual scallops—in Three Mile Harbor on Sunday. “I heard it’s pretty bleak elsewhere, so I guess I’m lucky to have gotten these.”
With a poor season coming, East Hampton Town for the first time opened its waters on Sunday to recreational harvesters only, to let those wading and snorkeling gather up the more easily accessible scallops before commercial baymen were allowed to tow iron dredges along the bay bottoms. Come Monday, though, some of East Hampton’s baymen didn’t even bother to go in search.
“We went to Napeague just to see if we could get a few to eat—we should’ve went and did something else,” said Dan Lester, a commercial bayman. He said he and his brother, Paul, pulled a total of about 30 scallops out of the harbor, where in other years two men in a boat could collect their limit of about 2,000 of the valuable bivalves in a couple of hours.
Flanders bayman Bob Bourgonnon said that the season has been very poor throughout the Peconic Estuary, which once produced more than 300,000 bushels of scallops a year. Many baymen, he noted, have said that there do appear to be huge numbers of bugs—what baymen call juvenile scallops too small to be harvested yet—that could bode well for a good season next year, if they survive.
The once gargantuan numbers of scallops that thrived in the Peconics and their tributaries collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s following the appearance of the infamous “brown tide” algae blooms. They have shown signs of rebounding in the last 10 years but the now annual appearance of a red tide algae has been blamed on massive die-offs of the young bugs during the summer months, occasionally derailing what had been expected to be good years.
Bruce Sasso, owner of Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett said few commercial harvesters have gotten more than a bushel or two in a day, not enough to be worth the search for most harvesters who could make more digging clams. He said the harvest has also been poor in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the other bay scallop strongholds in the Northeast.
His wife, Charlotte, said that the shop is selling scallops for about $38 a pound this year, based on the relative dearth and the typically high demand for the tender white morsels of meat. In some years it has been as low as $20 a pound.
“Everyone is still thrilled to have them. It’s such an occasion out here. It’s part of the fall,” Ms. Sasso said. “This past week I know a lot of my friends need some cheering up. It’s better than drinking. Although, a nice glass of white wine with them isn’t a bad idea either.”