Peconic Bay was one of four fisheries to be declared a fishery disaster following the “near-unprecedented” Peconic Bay scallop die-off of 2019 and subsequent problems in 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced on June 29.
The determination makes the fisheries eligible for disaster assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They may also qualify for disaster assistance from the Small Business Administration, according to the Department of Commerce. The department has balances remaining from previously appropriated fishery disaster assistance and will determine the appropriate allocation for Peconic Bay as well as the other locations in Washington and Alaska, a press release noted.
“Fisheries are essential to our communities and economy and we want to ensure America is in a position to remain competitive on the global stage,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “These determinations allow us to lend a helping hand to the fishing families and communities that have experienced very real and difficult setbacks in the last few years.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to former Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in December 2019 calling for federal action to help New York’s scallop fishery following the Peconic Bay die-off.
“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,” the governor said at the time.
In February 2020, researchers announced they had discovered a parasite found in a sample of adult bay scallops that they believed contributed to the die-off in 2019. New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said in 2020 it was the first time the coccidian parasite has been seen in New York waters.
The Department of Commerce said it evaluates each fishery disaster request based primarily on data submitted by the requesting state or tribe. A declared fishery must meet specific requirements under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and/or the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act.
The other areas that met the criteria were 2019 Norton Sound red king crab in Alaska, 2018 Port Gamble S’Klallam Puget Sound coho salmon in Washington and 2019 Chehalis and Black River Spring chinook salmon in Washington.
Baymen found hardly any scallops in Peconic Bay when the season last opened in November 2020.
Ms. Seggos said in 2019 that the die-off in Peconic Bay “has once again demonstrated the reality of climate change that will have rippling effects on our local communities.”
County Executive Steve Bellone said in 2019 that declaring fishery disaster “will go a long way in helping our fishing professionals during this time of need and will help safeguarding the long-term future of this industry.”