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Town Committee pitched on Oyster gardens, Creek cleanup

Kim Tetrault of Cornell Cooperative Extension has spent 27 years bringing scallops back to Peconic Bay. He’s now looking to Shelter Island to establish an oyster gardening project.

He brought the proposal to the Water Advisory Committee (WAC), explaining there are already Islanders engaged in growing oysters, generally working off their own docks where the growth is accessible for monitoring.

These residents, Mr. Tetrault said, aren’t commercial sellers, but are growing oysters for their own use and believe in increasing the oyster population and improving water quality. Mr. Tetrault has some 350 families engaged in the practice on the East End.

Islander Alice Dupree has been “almost a founding member” of the group of volunteers working with Mr. Tetrault. She’s been growing oysters in Menantic Creek. Ms. Dupree suggested using a site like Dickerson Creek for an oyster garden, and said she would work with others to scout possible alternative bodies of water that might be right for the activity.

Mr. Tetrault said he’s worked with Mashomack Preserve on the scallop program in the past, and wondered if the Town might help open the door to bringing Mashomack on board for the oyster garden project.

Ben Gonzalez of Southold Bay Oysters holds a cage of farmed oysters that have formed a natural reef. (Credit: Charity Robey)

WAC Chairman Peter Grand said it might be possible to engage Mashomack leaders to  consider participation in the oyster project.

Mr. Tetrault said the Island effort could start small with a handful of families involved. Baymen in other communities have been supportive of the effort that isn’t competing with their harvesting of oysters for commercial purposes.

Their support comes from the fact that the oyster gardens help to clean water, filtering out contaminants and resulting in greater diversity of marine species and a diversity of animal habitats. Mr. Tetrault  described the oyster gardens as something akin to the canary in the coal mine. Just as the canary would be affected by lack of oxygen, so the oyster’s survival would be affected by contaminated water.

If Town-owned sites are used, the Town could have some liability, Mr. Tetrault said. In terms of the issues confronting neighbors around Menantic Creek, they’ve formed their own group to investigate problems, patterning their work on the efforts the Fresh Pond Neighbors Association has used.

Tristen Tagliaferri, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS)), said that organization might be able to get involved in working with the neighbors. There are plans for County dredging around the mouth of Menantic Creek with the hope it might provide oxygen to the water that might help to improve its condition.

Corky Diefendorf at his West Neck Creek aquaculture operation.

The USGS could provide equipment to process data if the Town Board opted to hire it for that purpose, Ms. Tagliaferri said. That could provide an indication of whether there are  improvements from various efforts.

Ms. Dupree’s hope is that the “citizen science” effort of the neighbors, with the help of the USGS could result in Menantic Creek water being restored to health.

Mr. Grand asked Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla, a liaison to the WAC, to ask the Town Board if there might be interest in further exploring the oyster garden program.

An artifact from when Shelter Island was a key player in the oyster industry of the east coast. (Credit: Katherine Schroeder)