The Peconic Bay scallop, a favorite of East End foodies and a late-year boon for area baymen, could be largely absent from markets and menus after the season opens up Monday.
Early reports from within the fishing industry suggest there are few bay scallops to harvest this year.
“There’s going to be scallops, but there’s not going to be many around,” said Southold Fish Market owner Charlie Manwaring. “It’s nothing like the last couple of years.”
On Shelter Island, several baymen said they had no plans to go out on opening day due to the grim population projections. Mr. Manwaring said he was told the same thing by some of the baymen he spoke with.
Because bay scallops live for just 18 to 22 months and reproduce only once, they are particularly susceptible to population fluctuations and the harvests have always been cyclical.
“Not good,” Braun Seafood Co. owner Ken Homan said of his expectations for the 2019-20 season. “I think the scallops must have spawned too early because they seem to have died early, but just a guess.”
Stephen Tettlebach, a shellfish ecologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, is expected to discuss the prospects for the coming season at an event tonight, Friday, at 6 p.m. at the East End Seaport Museum in Greenport. He’ll also give an overview of the work that’s been done in recent years to restore the population.
Bay scallops were nearly driven to extinction due to “brown tide” algal blooms that affected bay waters from 1985 to 1987 and again in 1995. The collapse of the scallop population in the late ’80s was a calamity that brought the DEC and the baymen together in agreement that scalloping season had to be changed to maximize the chances for scallops to spawn.
Environmental factors, such as runoff from fertilizers and antiquated septic systems have hurt the fishery during some recent years, but with improvements in water quality and a successful and ongoing reseeding program, the scallop population has gradually rebounded.
In 2017, bay scallops accounted for $1.57 million of revenue, the highest value harvest in New York since the 1994 harvest of $1.76 million.
Mr. Manwaring said it’s hard to accurately predict how much volume he’ll see Monday, but he has a “bad, bad feeling” based on what he’s heard from everyone he’s spoken with.
“If I get 20 bags in or something like that, they’re going to be worth a lot of money,” he said. “If we get a couple hundred bags in, that’s a different story.”
With reporting from Kate Nalepinski, Steve Wick and Charity Robey.
Caption: Skip Tuttle of Shelter Island heading out for the opening day of scallop season 2018. (Credit: Beverlea Walz)