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Aug 7, 2018 4:03 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Town Plans To Consolidate Shellfish Hatchery Operations

The East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery harvesting their clams, oysters, and scallops. The South Fork Natural History Museum camp stopped by for an educational and hands on tour. ELIZABETH VESPE
Aug 7, 2018 4:03 PM

East Hampton Town is taking steps to move forward with an almost $5 million project that would consolidate the town’s shellfish hatchery and nursery operations, which are currently based mostly in Montauk, to a single site on Three Mile Harbor near the East Hampton Town Marine Patrol building.

To help meet that goal, the Town Board voted at a meeting on Thursday to spend up to $2.1 million to purchase a house on 1.1 acres on Gann Road that will be converted to an aquaculture educational center. To pay for the purchase, about $1.42 million will come from the 20 percent of Community Preservation Fund revenues that can be used to improve water quality, with the balance coming from the town’s capital budget.

The board also voted to increase the amount of money it seeks in a grant application to the state to build the new aquaculture facility, which is expected to cost $4.75 million, which includes the purchase price for the property. The grant could pay up to 20 percent of the cost for improvements, or about $500,000 of about $2.65 million.

Scientists say that an average 3-inch oyster can filter close to 50 gallons of water a day, and the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery introduces over two million oysters, four million clams, and a few hundred thousand scallops into the town’s tidal waters each year to help clean the water and fortify the shellfish population. When the shellfish reach a certain size they are scattered in Three Mile Harbor, Napeague Harbor, and Northwest Creek, among other places. On Monday, in fact, Mr. Dunne was out in a small boat on Napeague Harbor showing children from the South Fork Natural History Museum some of the juvenile shellfish that had yet to be released.

The hatchery’s growing operations are divided between a spawning facility on Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, near the train station, and a nursery at Gann Road on Three Mile Harbor. In February, when the spawning process begins, water is pumped from Fort Pond Bay into tanks, where shellfish release eggs and sperm into the water, larvae grow overnight, and proceed to float around in the tanks. After the two weeks, the larvae, which are about a quarter of a millimeter in size, begin to settle to the bottom of the tank, developing into juvenile shellfish,

In April, hatchery staff start bringing the shellfish to the nursery at Three Mile Harbor, where, as the water gets warmer, they continue to grow in containers submerged in water.

According to John “Barley” Dunne, who manages the hatchery, consolidating the entire operation to Three Mile Harbor would cut costs, the death toll of shellfish, especially scallops, that are transferred by truck, and the time it takes to move the shellfish from the spawning center in Montauk to the nursery in East Hampton.

In recent years, the town has been scouting for better locations for the hatchery, which is located in an old Navy building built in Montauk that was built in the 1940s. The town bought it in the 1980s with the intention of a nursery and hatchery occupying the space together. The nursery stage didn’t yield favorable results for the spawned shellfish, however. The water in Fort Pond Bay was too oceanic, significantly colder than Three Mile Harbor, and it remained too cold. According to Mr. Dunne, the algae in Fort Pond Bay does not contain the nutrients that the inner waters of Three Mile Harbor do.

Each year, once the shellfish grow to their early juvenile phase, are transported via truck to the nursery at Three Mile Harbor, thousands of shellfish die in the commute. “We’ll lose half of our scallop crop just from moving them back and forth,” stressed Mr. Dunne.

“The hatchery and nursery accompanying the same location with an education center is the ideal situation,” said Mr. Dunne.

“We plan to move all of our equipment over to a new facility should it come to fruition,” he said.

The town’s hatchery received $400,000 in grant funding last September from New York State by Governor Andrew Cuomo, as part of a water quality improvement initiative. The town plans to repopulate pre-determined sanctuary bay areas named by New York State within the next three years thanks to the funding.

“We are acquiring a new algae culture system with the $400,000 grant we recently received, which is much more efficient than the existing system, as well as some other tanks and equipment.” All of that would be moved west, Mr. Dunne said.

The old building in Montauk could serve another town unit, perhaps as a storage area for the lifeguards’ equipment, or a lease could be worked out, he suggested.

On the property on Gann Road, which is owned by Bennie Chiles and Terri Austin, and currently in contract, town officials envision, in addition to an aquaculture educational center combining the town’s shellfish hatchery and nursery sites, rain gardens and a bioswale, among other features.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, Councilman David Lys and CPF Director of Land Acquisition and Management Scott Wilson spoke in support of the project at last week’s Town Board meeting, although Councilman Jeffrey Bragman suggested that the project, however worthy, was moving ahead too quickly before being presented to the public and subject to environmental review.

“The shellfish hatchery is one of the most scientific departments we have, it’s a necessity for our community,” Mr. Lys said on Monday.

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Bravo to EH for taking aquaculture seriously : )
By Aeshtron (289), Southampton on Aug 8, 18 9:24 AM
1 member liked this comment
What are the economics of the project with and without subsidy?
By Amagansett Voter (50), Amagansett on Aug 8, 18 10:20 AM