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Apr 15, 2019 12:47 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town To Host Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program Information Session

Suffolk County leases 10-acre parcels of bottomlands in Peconic Bay for the purpose of growing shellfish. GREG WEHNER
Apr 16, 2019 2:03 PM

The Town of Southampton will host a public information meeting to discuss the Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program, or SCALP, on Tuesday, April 23, as part of the county’s 10-year review of the program.

About 500 acres of bay bottom in the Peconics and Gardiners Bay have been leased by the county to entities or individuals, allowing them to cultivate shellfish using anchored shellfish cages. The state ceded control of 110,000 acres of bottom lands in the bays to Suffolk County in the late 1800s to be used for underwater shellfish cultivation.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, large oyster companies steadily consolidated swaths of bottom land, where they grew tens of millions of oysters.

A drop in demand and the devastating brown tides in the 1980s and 1990s that killed off many of the oysters caused the once-booming industry to decline.

In 2009, Suffolk County legislators created the aquaculture leasing program and began to give out hundreds of 10-acre parcels in the Peconic Estuary. About 600 acres were made available, and the land leases run for 10 years.

Because it has been 10 years since the program was put into place, a full review is on tap and will include whether to expand the number of leases that can be issued. The review must take place before the program is reauthorized in 2020.

County officials are also considering leasing the areas for cultivating seaweed.

In 2016, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. successfully pushed legislation through Albany opening both Gardiners Bay and Peconic Bay for the harvesting of seaweed.

At the time, Mr. Thiele said the value and demand of seaweed had gone up as commercial businesses sought out edible sugar kelp. Seaweed also has the ability to help remove nitrogen from the water, which, when elevated, can lead to toxic algae blooms.

Anyone interested in applying for a lease for underwater lands in the Peconic Bay or Gardiners Bay is required to show that they are qualified to create and run a responsible growing operation. A county advisory committee reviews the applications and awards the leases.

The information session, which is open to the public, will take place on Tuesday, April 23, at Town Hall, beginning at 6 p.m.

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