Strange buoys in the bay part of new shellfish restoration project

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

Navigating the waters off Orient and Shelter Island this summer might provide a glimpse of long lines of white lobster buoys bobbing on the surface. Beneath those buoys, scientists are collecting scallop larvae to help restore the succulent shellfish’s population throughout the Peconic Bay estuary.

The Peconic Bay Scallop Restoration Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Cedar Beach laboratory in Southold recently set out the buoys, which mark the equipment used to gather scallop larvae, known as spat. One of the collection sites is off Cornelius Point on the northeast side of Shelter Island, and the other by Orient Beach State Park in Gardiners Bay.

“We want to let people, especially baymen, know what we’re up to,” said Dr. Stephen Tettelbach of Long Island University, who’s coordinating the effort. “Hopefully they’ll leave them alone.”

The spat collectors are attached, three to a bunch, to a long string of lobster buoys with blue line attached.

“Our plan is to have them out there for a couple months. We expect scallops to be spawning within a week, if hasn’t happened already,” said Dr. Tettelbach.

Once the larvae are collected they’ll be taken to the program’s growing system in Orient Harbor. The largest scallop bugs will be planted in other waters known to be favorable to scallop growth.

Dr. Tettelbach said he’s hoping the restoration program’s efforts will help make this a banner year for scallopers.

“We just finished our spring population surveys. In many areas throughout the bays we’re seeing record numbers ready to spawn,” he said. “We’re very excited about that. In some areas the density is way higher than before — 2.5 to 4 adult scallops per square meter. That’s huge for a natural population. I’m hopeful we’ll contribute more to that.”

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