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State shellfish policy raises concerns for Shelter Islanders

A new state policy to prohibit shellfishing in waterways deemed to have a high concentration of overnight boaters is troubling to Shelter Island officials.

Town Engineer Joe Finora told the Town Board at Tuesday’s work session that the prohibition will affect areas previously unaffected by closures ordered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The DEC has always been the authority designating areas where shellfish can be harvested. But the new policy would affect areas including West Neck Harbor.

The motivation for the new policy is based on worries that boaters will empty wastewater tanks into the water, posing a risk to shellfish if their crafts are staying in some areas for extended periods of time.

“The town is working closely with the state and neighboring towns to develop a mutually beneficial policy that ensures safe shellfish and accommodates the boating community,” Mr. Finora said.

Town Attorney Stephen Kiely said he and several Town Board members feel the agency is “assuming” there is pollution because of the concentration of overnight boats anchored, but the town has testing data that defies that claim.

To protect the interests of baymen who make their living from shellfish in those areas, Mr. Kiely said he wants to ensure there are “airtight” reasons backed by data before an area can be banned from use in shellfish harvesting.