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Partnership seeks to revive bay scallops

Is Peconic Bay headed for a complete end to the ability to produce bay scallops?

With more analysis of contributing factors to scallop die-offs in the past four years, the Peconic Estuary Partnership (PEP) believes it is armed with significant information to stop that possibility.

At a recent PEP meeting, Town Councilman Jim Colligan said if he was skeptical at first that spending more money could save bay scallops, he became convinced there are reasons to persist in funding.

Reporting to the Town Board at its Jan. 17 work session, Mr. Colligan outlined what is now known about the “devastating decrease” in scallop production in the Peconic Estuary. Originally, die-offs of mature scallops was occurring, but in the last year, spawning areas have also been affected.

What’s now known is there are four primary contributing factors:

• Water temperatures have been higher than they once were.

• There are lower levels of oxygen in the water, something that is now being measured by equipment at South Ferry.

• Diseases that specifically target bay scallops.

• New predators to bay scallops have been found in the area.

“It’s the perfect storm,” Mr. Colligan said.

Rapidly increasing water temperatures are affecting the ability of bay scallops to tolerate otherwise normal conditions such as parasitic occurrences and predators, Mr. Colligan said.

There’s a need to conduct high frequency monitoring of biometric parameters — the presence of PCBs (man-made synthetic chlorinated and organic chemicals) in water. Stony Brook has stepped up to do monitoring on a weekly basis instead of just several times a year, Mr. Colligan said.

What’s now known is harmful algal blooms are not causing the die-off, nor is it related to the lack of food in the Peconic Estuary system. Another factor once thought to contribute to the die-off was the quantity of oyster aquaculture operations in the Peconics, Mr. Colligan said.

“Those things have been ruled out,” he said.

But new predators — rays — have become more prevalent in Peconic waters.

There has also been a 90% to 95% decrease in eelgrass growing on the bay bottoms that has been a nursery habitat for scallops. It’s now thought to be a direct factor in the decline.

When it proliferated, the eelgrass allowed for a full and thriving recovery from other factors. The lessening of eelgrass was never as severe as it is now.

Reseeding is showing promise for bringing back bay scallops, Mr. Colligan said. But if it’s stopped, bay scallops could be lost forever in the Peconic Estuary, he said.

By fighting back with reseeding, it affords time to gather more data that can help identify other factors that might be causing the die-off, the councilman said.