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Cuomo requests federal support following scallop die-off in local bays

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is requesting federal support to address the recent scallop die-off, which killed an estimated 90 to 100% of adult scallops between last spring and fall in local bays.

In a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Friday, Mr. Cuomo requested the U.S. Department of Commerce declare the bay scallop fishery a “commercial fishery failure” and to provide direct economic relief to the New York fishing industry, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“New York is actively working to determine the cause of the recent bay scallop die-off and this federal designation would help our efforts to support commercial fisherman while addressing the population loss,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.”We will continue to lead innovative programs to improve water quality and restore valuable shellfish populations. Protecting and enhancing New York’s marine environment is vital to maintain robust economies in coastal communities that rely on healthy ecosystems and stable fisheries.”

In 2017 and 2018, bay scallop landings in the Peconic Bay Estuary exceeded 108,000 pounds, with a dockside value of $1.6 million, according to the governor. Early season projections originally looked good, but by early fall, “the fishery collapsed.”

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The federal support would provide economic assistance to scallop fishermen and support monitoring and restoration efforts necessary to rehabilitate the fishery.

Currently, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stony Brook University and other partners to research and identify contributing factors that may have led to the die-off.

“The recent die-off in Peconic Bay has once again demonstrated the reality of climate change that will have rippling effects on our local communities and I applaud the governor for seeking this federal fishery disaster designation,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in a statement.

Stephen Tettelbach, a shellfish ecologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said recently the plausible causes of the die-off are rising water temperatures, reaching up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the bays over the summer, and low-dissolved oxygen levels.

“The landings to this point have been very low and it has been an abysmal season for sure,” Mr. Tettelbach said.

Local restaurants that typically serve a variety of dishes with bay scallops this time of year have had to adjust.

This weekend is the eighth annual Shellabration in Greenport. The two-day event typically draws hundreds of shellfish lovers with the proceeds benefitting Cornell’s Back to the Bays Initiative as well as the Southold Project in Aquaculture Training, a Cornell Cooperative Extension program that encourages locals to grow shellfish. Scallops are typically one of the main draws, but this year oysters will take on a bigger role.

In Mr. Cuomo’s letter, he wrote: “The bay scallop population in Peconic Estuary historically supported one of the State’s commercially important fisheries and provided significant economic revenues to the fishing industry, East End businesses and related industries. … Recognizing the historical importance of the bay scallop fishery to New York’s environmental and economic health, federal assistance in funding efforts are urgently needed to help New York restore this important resource to benefit the health of the estuary and to support this important commercial and recreational fishery.”

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