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Oysterponds Shellfish Co. at odds with DEC

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced earlier this month that Oysterponds Creek will be closed to shellfish harvesting seasonally, from May through October, until it meets testing standards to reopen. 

The tidal creek has been the harvesting spot for Oysterponds Shellfish Co., which was established in 2005. The business is harvesting within Peconic Bay, said Phil Mastrangelo, a partner in the company who also owns Race Rock Oysters, and its nursery is still functioning in the creek. 

“There’s a lot of information that points in a different direction than what the DEC does,” Mr. Mastrangelo said last week. As a company, Oysterponds Shellfish Co. conducts its own testing, which yielded results different from the DEC’s and were not cause for concern, he said. 

An annual state water quality evaluation for a portion Orient Harbor and Oysterponds Creek was completed in 2017 and, according to the DEC, data collected from the water sampling station that monitors the creek and an adjacent portion of the harbor determined that those areas failed to meet fecal coliform standards for certification from May through October.  

The shellfishing closure is costly for the company, Mr. Mastrangelo said, “but we’re rolling with it.”  They had to purchase different equipment for harvesting operations in the bay and pay for additional labor. 

As part of an aquaculture science project, founder Reg Tuthill and marine science professor John Holzapfel began growing oysters in the creek in 2001. The company grew from there, eventually selling oysters to local restaurants and places like the Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhattan. 

Though the oyster farmers understand that the DEC errs on the side of caution for safety and adheres to testing standards, there is a feeling that evidence given suggesting a source of contaminants is “underwhleming,” said Mr. Holzapfel, who is familiar with the 2017 DEC report. The report did not mention a definitive source, he said.  

It could take several years to reopen the creek to harvesting and “unfortunately we’re caught up in it,” Mr. Mastrangelo said. 

The closure will continue until an evaluation determines the area meets recertification requirements of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program and DEC regulations, according to the DEC.

A 44-acre area including Oysterponds Creek and part of Orient Harbor will be closed seasonally during the warmer months, according to the DEC. An emergency regulation was adopted for this year to implement the closure from May 15 to Oct. 31. The DEC also plans to implement a seasonal closure from May 1 through Oct. 31 for 2019. 

The DEC was scheduled to collect water samples from Orient Harbor on Tuesday. 

Seasonal closures of shellfishing areas during warmer weather are common on Long Island and several other such areas exist in the town of Southold, according to the DEC. 

The DEC’s May 2 announcement also included a year-round closure of shellfishing for 98 acres in West Creek, a tributary of Peconic Bay in New Suffolk.

In addition, it reopened several previously closed shellfishing areas, including 28 acres in Hallocks Bay and Little Bay.

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