Clocks turned back, Halloween in the rearview mirror, the chilly fall season has officially arrived, and with it the season for one of the East End’s most beloved bivalves (yet, on the East End, we have many bivalves that have won our hearts)—the Peconic Bay scallop. But there is chilling news as the season to harvest opens in Southampton Town waters on November 2 (recreational harvesters must wait until November 8 in East Hampton Town, and commercial harvesters there can’t begin until on November 9).
There are some 20 sites in the Peconic waters that are examined by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program to determine the health of the scallop population, and it has been reported that the majority of adult bay scallops perished over the course of the summer, leaving few that meet the size required to be harvested. Some baymen have reported not seeing any at all.
This is frighteningly similar to the news that came a year ago, in which a scientific study reported that 95% of the adult scallops had died in 2019. The die-offs have been blamed in part on the increased water temperatures in the Peconic Estuary, along with a new type of parasite preying upon the shellfish and the presence of predatory cow-nosed rays.
The impact will certainly be felt immediately in the local economy, hitting baymen who work the waters harvesting the prized scallops during the winter season, markets that sell them and numerous restaurants who have eager clientele awaiting the arrival of bay scallop dishes on menus. As for the future, while studies are underway to discover more about the cause, but this may well serve as a warning of larger, long-term environmental issues facing our local waters.