Just Sayin’: Big scallop haul a mystery

As the frozen bay begins to thaw, deckhand Jose Humani swings a bin of clams to the dock from the Joseph B. Glancy fishing boat. After ice prevented fishing, the shellfish company, Frank M. Flower & Sons, returned Monday, March 9, 2015, to harvesting clams and oysters from its leased space in Oyster Bay. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The state Department of Environmental Conservation just released its shellfish landings data for 2014. It documents the harvest of clams, mussels, oysters and scallops taken from our local waters. Shellfish feed by filtering out algae, which, in turn, require sunlight, proper water conditions and nutrients. In most waters where shellfish are harvested, one nutrient controls the availability of algae. That nutrient is nitrogen.

We have all heard that excessive nitrogen loading to our waters can cause harmful algae blooms, low levels of dissolved oxygen and habitat degradation; no one challenges this. And based on what most of us have heard about the increasing amounts of nitrogen in our bays, it would be understandable to assume that our bays are on a downward trend and doing poorly. If we gave them a grade, it would be failing.

But if we let the bays tell us how they are doing, we get a puzzling answer. Last year’s 100,000-pound harvest of bay scallops was almost 20 times as great as the year before. It was the greatest catch by far in the last decade. Based on the scallop harvest, our bays might get an A.

How do we reconcile our perception of how we think the bay is doing to how it actually is? Last year’s unexplained scallop harvest should at least give us pause until we can align our expectations of nitrogen management with the bays’ response to it.


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