Fishermen: It was a great scallop season

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | From left, Ed Densieski of Riverhead and Dave Cullen of South Jamesport harvests scallops in Orient Harbor.

It’s hard to top last year’s scallop season, but the fishermen who hung in there plying the waters these last several months say they weren’t disappointed and expect great things again next year.

“It was a great season, the best season since I started,” said Ed Densieski of Riverhead, who scallops part-time from opening day in November to the season’s close at the end of March. “There are plenty of bugs [baby scallops] out there. I’m thinking next year’s going to be a great year.”

Mr. Densieski said that while opening day was “a zoo” at scalloping hot spots, he saw an average of two to three boats out each day throughout the season.

“I just moved around. I’d work one spot and then another,” he said. “We were lucky to keep finding some. It wasn’t cold. There was no ice to deal with. It was a great year.”

Billy Hands of Orient, who scallops in his free time when he’s not working at the Orient Service Center, agrees.

“I thought it was good and plenty to eat!” he said. “There are lots of bugs out there right now and as long as the summer doesn’t produce a brown tide and water temperatures stay normal, then it should be a great season in November 2012.”

Researcher Stephen Tettelbach, an LIU professor who works with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Peconic Bay scallop restoration program, said he’s heard mixed reports from baymen this year. He added, however, that he believes many more people were scalloping this year than last year, after word got out that it was expected to be a good year.

“On opening day, the numbers of baymen on the water were in the hundreds,” he said. “I think there was more effort expended this year. It may have spread it around a little more than previous years.”

Mr. Tettelbach said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has not yet released the number of scallops caught in calendar year 2010, so it will be quite some time until this year’s catch is quantified.

He said he saw many bugs on the bottom last fall and has heard the same from baymen. Bugs are immature scallops less than one year old. Scallops are large enough to be harvested in their second year, after which they die.

“There’s a real buzz about lots of bugs out there. People are seeing very high concentrations,” Mr. Tettelbach said.

He added that one scalloper he knows recently reported that the scallops are fatter and healthier looking than usual for this time of year.

That may be weather related, he said. Because of higher water temperatures, scallops were able to feed on algae during February, when they’re usually in a semi-hibernating state. That’s good for the harvest, but how it might affect the shellfish’s post-season survival is another matter.

“The crunch time that we’ve seen for scallops dying off naturally occurs in April,” said Mr. Tettelbach. “Their metabolic demands are increasing and there may not be as much food around as they need at that time. That seems to be a real critical period of the year.”

Mr. Densieski said he worries that warm temperatures could lead to damaging algae blooms like the brown tide, which nearly wiped out the scallop population in the mid-1980s.

Mr. Tettelbach said there’s no way of knowing how the scallops might do in the short term, particularly this month.

“Time will tell whether that happens at the same rate this year as in the past,” he said.

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