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Oct 23, 2012 4:52 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Scallops Suffer Massive Die-Off: Red Tide May Be To Blame

Oct 23, 2012 5:32 PM

Just a few weeks ago, baymen and shellfish experts were brimming with optimism about what was expected to be a banner bay scallop harvest when the season opens next month. Some pointed to the predictions as a sign that the local scallop population had finally gotten past the devastation wreaked by brown tides in the 1980s and 1990s.

This week, much of that optimism has evaporated.

Scientists from Long Island University, completing underwater surveys of scallop populations in the Peconic Estuary as far east as Orient earlier this month, said they found as much as 90 percent mortality rates in the mammoth “set” of bay scallops that they recorded at the start of the summer.

At the same time, baymen scouting the sections of bay bottom they planned to dredge for scallops next month came back to the dock with very discouraging reports of very few live, adult scallops to be found. Areas that had been loaded with small scallops at the end of last winter, spurring the favorable forecasts for this fall, were found to be barren, save for baby scallops, called “bugs,” and the shells of adults that have perished.

“This banner scallop season that was predicted last year doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” said Ed Warner, a bayman from Hampton Bays who also serves as a Southampton Town Trustee. “Now it actually looks like it’s going to be the worst year we’ve had in a few years.”

Mr. Warner said the reports he’s heard from baymen from the North Fork and East Hampton have been the same: the scallops are gone.

Many baymen are blaming the die-off on this summer’s red tide, massive blooms of algae that stained the waters of Shinnecock, Peconic and Gardiners bays, and many of their tributary harbors and creeks, a brownish red in August and September. The species of algae, called

cochlodinium

, is not harmful to humans but has been shown to be fatal to fish and shellfish, and has been blamed for the deaths of fish caught in fishermen’s traps and even in the open waters of shallow creeks.

Dr. Stephen Tettlebach, a marine science professor at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus, who conducts shellfish surveys throughout the Peconic Estuary twice a year, said the scallop die-off is not completely across the board. Most of the adult scallops in some select areas seem to have survived the summer, but he stressed that those instances are few. He also pointed out that the areas that had the densest concentrations of young scallops and presented the best examples of the scallop rebound in the spring seem to have seen the highest rates of mortality.

Northwest Harbor in East Hampton, Orient and Hog Neck bays in Southold and Southold Bay all saw steep die-offs of the large sets of scallops they had in the spring.

Additionally, a large percentage of those scallops that have survived, Dr. Tettlebach said, appear to be smaller in size than they would typically be at this time of year—a hint to the scientist that the issue has something to do with their food source. Scallops, like most shellfish, are filter feeders that strain microscopic organisms, algae primarily, from the water around them. The brown tides of the 1980s and 1990s were devastating to the scallops and other shellfish, because while the algae species that caused the brown tides has not been found to be toxic itself, the shellfish would not eat it for some reason. When the dense blooms exploded and choked the bay of all other species of algae, the scallops starved to death.

“It’s a bummer, but it’s not unprecedented,” Dr. Tettlebach said. “There were years, before the brown tide even, when the densities were not great and the scallops were small. We hope it’s just a downturn this year and we’ll see a rebound next year.”

Dr. Tettlebach said it appears as though the scallops died fairly recently, because the divers found enormous numbers of dead scallops that still had their shells attached at the hinge, whereas tide and wave action will cause the two halves of the shell to break apart over time. “We call those ‘cluckers,’” Dr. Tettlebach said. “This was the highest density of cluckers we’ve ever seen.”

That finding, suggesting a late-summer spike in mortality, would lend credence to the red tide being at the heart of the shellfish deaths. The late summer red tide outbreak this year was more widespread and denser in many areas than it has ever been since first appearing in East End waters in 2004. The algae blooms were visible in portions of Three Mile Harbor for the first time this summer.

“It was as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” said Jon Semlear, a bayman from Sag Harbor who fishes in Noyac Bay and also serves as a Southampton Town Trustee. “This was the worst late summer and fall fishing I’ve ever had, and, the last three or four years, it’s been getting worse and worse. The fish smell [the red tide] coming, and they get out of there. And they say it lays on the bottom at night, and that’s where the shellfish are.”

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I think we better listen to the Peconic Bay Keeper, hopefully it's not too late! Stop the building so close to our water!!!
By sandydog21 (181), Southampton on Oct 23, 12 6:22 PM
3 members liked this comment
I am pretty sure bottom paint and chemicals from the marinas are to blame not a few lawns.
By Undocumented Democrat (1416), southampton on Oct 24, 12 11:00 AM
Nitrogen is likely culprit in algal blooms as it's a limiting nutrient. If there is ample nitrogen, there is ample life. Bottom paint would facilitate algal blooms.
By Nature (2941), Hampton Bays on Oct 24, 12 2:35 PM
Anti-fouling bottom paint typically contain pesticides/biocides that are continually released into the water in order to prevent barnacles, seaweed and other organisms from adhering to the boat. The paint most often contains copper compounds, and there are still some boats floating around with tributylin compounds as well. These work well to keep aquatic life off the boats, but they can also harm fish, shellfish and other non-target organisms. There are new ‘metal-free’ paints available ...more
By dklughers (43), east Hampton on Oct 24, 12 4:33 PM
Yes - thanks. I of course meant to say it would NOT facilitate algae growth.

While anti-fouling paints aren't great for the environment, the areas of the east end affected by the die off are not nearly as populated by boaters as other areas of Long Island /the east coast. I don't see that as being a legit issue.
By Nature (2941), Hampton Bays on Oct 25, 12 2:43 PM
Why doesn't anyone ever bring up the sewage treatment plant in Riverhead that pumps alleged treated brown water into the Peconic Bay?
By chief1 (2259), southampton on Oct 23, 12 6:53 PM
2 members liked this comment
Because it doesnt pump brown water into the bay.
By Phadreus1340 (144), Southampton on Oct 23, 12 11:26 PM
For the same reason no one every talks about re locating a semi super max cement prison that dumps dirt bag convicts out on our streets every day. Next question
By Undocumented Democrat (1416), southampton on Oct 24, 12 11:02 AM
Chief: How does your theory explain the following:

Northwest Harbor in East Hampton, Orient and Hog Neck bays in Southold and Southold Bay all saw steep die-offs of the large sets of scallops they had in the spring.
By Nature (2941), Hampton Bays on Oct 24, 12 2:36 PM
Chief just spouts garbage and leaves, never responds to a direct question.
By Phadreus1340 (144), Southampton on Oct 25, 12 1:03 PM
I walk the ocean beach every morning and have seen unbelievable amounts of jelly fish in the past 3 weeks and just yesterday thousands of snails and small bait clams have washed up. what is going on? Is this the El Nino or Nina? Seagulls every where on the beach. Has to mean somthing but what?
By xtiego (574), bridgehampton on Oct 23, 12 6:59 PM
A hurricane passed waaaaay offshore over the weekend and whipped up the seas. The ocean is simply depositing detritus it's collected. As for seagulls, they are in migration (believe it or not) so there are more here now than during the summer
By Nature (2941), Hampton Bays on Oct 23, 12 8:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why not consider CCA , which contains arsenic , ? It has been banned but enough of it remains in existing structures.
What about all the chemicals in the multitude of pools which are routinely emptied into the bays ?
Many factors could be responsible.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Oct 24, 12 11:34 PM
Privateer - many facotrs COULD be involved if it was in one location that was under similar stresses. The fact that it's widespread from Orient to Riverhead indicates that it is likely to be one factor (i.e. nitrogen) which is causing the problem
By Nature (2941), Hampton Bays on Oct 25, 12 2:45 PM
Firecracker 8K run & 3 Mile Walk Southampton Village 4th of July weekend