A "catastrophic die-off" of Peconic bay scallops has led Governor Andrew Cuomo to ask for federal help.
The governor sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to ask for a federal disaster declaration, which would then provide federal aid to the Long Island fishing industry.
The scallop population in Peconic Bay was almost entirely wiped out before, following brown tide algae blooms in the '80s and '90s. According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, beginning in 2005, "Cornell Cooperative Extension and Long Island University began the largest bay scallop restoration effort ever attempted in the United States... [Over] 6 million scallops have been raised in Cornell's hatchery in Southold and planted into the Peconic Bays. These restoration efforts have contributed to a huge increase in scallop populations. LIU and Cornell scientists have documented an increase in scallop larval settlement of [over] 3200% in Orient Harbor, the site where the primary spawner sanctuary is in place. Populations of juveniles and adult scallops in Orient Harbor and other Peconic embayments have increased by [over] 1000%."
But this year, the scallop population collapsed, and experts say the culprit is the climate crisis, which has raised water temperatures and reduced oxygen. An ecologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stephen Tettelbach, told Newsday last month when scallop season began, "This is really a catastrophic die-off."
Fishermen and seafood sellers had their fears about the harvest confirmed this fall. Southold Fish Market owner Charles Manwaring said his crew came back with only five pounds of scallops one day, when they can take up to 10-20 bushels. The NY Times reported, "Ken Homan of Braun’s, a longtime distributor of bay scallops, has seen years that were down, but never a year when his best suppliers decided to skip opening day. By the end of the day Monday, Braun’s had sold 24 pounds of Peconic Bay scallops, down from 2,000 pounds on opening day last year."
Here's what the harvest from 2014 looked like:
"This year's catastrophic loss of more than 90 percent of adult bay scallops in the Peconic Bays affects both commercial baymen and local seafood dealers and markets that depend on this resource," a press release from the governor's office stated. "In 2017 and 2018, bay scallop landings in the Peconic Bay Estuary exceeded 108,000 pounds, with a dockside value of $1.6 million. Early season population surveys predicted another great harvest ahead, but by early fall, the fishery collapsed. The federal support requested by Governor Cuomo would provide economic assistance to scallop fishermen and support monitoring and restoration efforts necessary to rehabilitate the fishery."
The state is also working on understanding what's happened to the scallops, including ways to restore the population, determining whether "superior strains of bay scallops... resistant to biological and environmental stressors (such as high temperature related to climate change)" can be restored, and expanding monitoring.
This also means that some NYC chefs aren't able to offer the locally-sourced delicacy, as prices have essentially doubled. The Grand Central Oyster Bar's executive chef Sandy Ingber said to the Post "I’d have to charge $50 or $60 for a five-ounce portion. No one will pay for that."
While the adult scallop population has been decimated, it's believed the juveniles scallops survived.