Shellfish harvesting to open at Mattituck, Wickham creeks

The view of Wickham Creek in Cutchogue from West Creek Avenue. The creek has been off limits to baymen since 2007. (Credit: Carrie Miller)
The view of Wickham Creek in Cutchogue from West Creek Avenue. The creek has been off limits to baymen since 2007. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced last week that areas of Mattituck and Wickham creeks will be opened for seasonal shellfish harvesting, a development that’s being hailed as a win for the town’s shellfish advisory committee.

For almost two decades, committee members have tested water quality locally — starting in Mattituck Creek in 1995 — hoping to liberate some of the many creeks that had been deemed off limits to area baymen.

DEC officials said last Thursday that 13 acres of Wickham Creek will be opened to commercial and recreational fishermen from Nov. 1 to May 14 annually.

Up to now, it’s been illegal to harvest or sell shellfish from that area since June 2007, said Michael Collins, a Southold Town engineer.

In addition, about 52 acres of underwater lands in Mattituck Creek will be open from Jan. 15 to April 15 annually. This is an upgrade from the creek’s prior “conditional” certification, which allowed for harvesting so long as no more than three inches of rainfall are recorded per day for seven consecutive days.

“When you go from a conditional to a seasonal certification, it is a major improvement,” said John Bredemeyer, president of the town Board of Trustees. “It means the standing water quality is healthy for a good portion of the year. It’s proof that the town’s drainage projects are improving the water quality.”

In January, Trustee Jim King explained that town engineers put multiple dry wells along the side of Bayview Avenue, on the west side of Mattituck Creek, helping to mitigate stormwater runoff entering the waterway. Mr. Collins explained that the committee’s water testing has also helped by identifying when investment in such infrastructure projects would be unnecessary, saving both time and money.

“Wickham Creek is a different story,” he said. “Samples after some very heavy rainfall showed the bacteria [was] not related to [stormwater] runoff. It looked like there may have been a larger transient geese population.”

The next step, Mr. Bredemeyer explained, would be achieving year-round certification for both creeks.

He said the shellfish advisory committee now aims to complete water quality testing at Narrow River in Orient, Spring Pond in East Marion and Sterling Creek in Greenport to see if stormwater mitigation projects are necessary.

Because of limited resources at the state DEC’s closest water-sampling lab, which is in Stony Brook, Mr. Bredemeyer said Trustees in Southold and East Hampton are pursuing building a relationship with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, to see if it would be interested in becoming a state DEC-qualified testing location.

“We’re hopeful that we can possibly get a qualified lab to do some additional samplings,” he said. “When the state DEC says they don’t have lab capability, we miss out on the opportunity to get a creek opened.”

Mr. Bredemeyer said the state agency has become overburdened due to testing for harmful algal blooms, like brown and red tides.

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