DEC to Reopen 3,200 Acres of Shellfishing Areas Most after 40 Years of Closure

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Citing the positive results of sanitary surveys, water quality monitoring and shellfish tissue testing, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens today announced proposed regulations to reopen shellfish harvesting areas in approximately 3,200 acres in several bays and harbors around Long Island in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

“Opening these valuable beds around Long Island is not only a big win for commercial and recreational shellfishing but also an economic boost for the industry and towns in these areas,” said Commissioner Martens. “These new marine resources are the result of a variety of environmental projects that have taken place over recent decades to protect and restore New York’s coastal waters.”

The largest reopening is proposed for an area adjacent to the Towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay. Testing of water samples conducted over more than five years showed levels of fecal bacteria in approximately 2,500 acres of outer Hempstead Harbor and Long Island Sound are meeting the stringent state and federal standards for a certified (open) shellfishing area. Additionally, hard clam samples from the area were tested for the presence of various metals, PCBs, dioxins, furans, pesticides, and radioactive elements. The data as reviewed by the New York State Health Department concluded that the potential exposure from eating shellfish from the newly certified waters was not be a health concern.

With the elimination of many industrial uses around the harbor over the past forty years (e.g., conversion of the Roslyn wastewater treatment plant to a pump station) and numerous water quality improvement efforts, natural processes have renewed and improved the harbor’s ecosystem. Through the Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) program, DEC has used funding from the Environmental Protection Fund and 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act to provide approximately $8 million to area municipalities to conduct a number of projects that improved Hempstead Harbor’s water quality (e.g., Glen Cove wastewater treatment plant upgrade plus UV disinfection, new sewers in the Village of Sea Cliff and Town of North Hempstead). Many municipalities around the Harbor (and across the state) have implemented Stormwater Management Program Plans to reduce the impact of runoff on local water bodies. Among recent actions contributing to the opening of the outer Hempstead Harbor to shellfishing is the establishment of a vessel waste No Discharge Zone for the Harbor in 2008. As a result, DEC will now be able to open this shellfishing area.

DEC’s regulations will reclassify approximately 2,500 acres of underwater lands to certified year-round for shellfish harvesting. Since the affected area is state owned, anyone may harvest shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels and scallops) consistent with daily harvest limits and size limits for the various types of shellfish (Shellfish Harvest Limits), after the proposed regulations are adopted following a public comment period. However, the inner portion of Hempstead Harbor and three tributaries (East Creek, West Pond and Dosoris Pond) that empty into outer Hempstead Harbor will remain uncertified (closed) to shellfishing.

For more information on the regulatory changes including colored maps identifying these areas, visit Regulatory Changes on the DEC website.

The DEC’s Bureau of Marine Resources (BMR) initiated a sanitary survey of the area in August 2004, after observing commercial shellfish harvesters working in Long Island Sound, just east of Matinecock Point. Routine water quality monitoring conducted over the next four years indicated that water quality in outer Hempstead Harbor was meeting the bacteriological criteria for certified areas, where shellfish can be taken for human consumption. FDA assisted with a required dye study. BMR also worked cooperatively with the Town of Oyster Bay and the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor to collect and examine additional water samples to evaluate the effects that significant volumes of non-point source runoff after moderate to heavy rainfall events had on water quality in outer Hempstead Harbor. This reclassification will reopen areas of outer Hempstead Harbor that have been closed to shellfishing for more than 40 years. The map and additional information for the proposed reopening of Hempstead Harbor is available at DEC’s website.

Below are the openings in the other five towns in Nassau and Suffolk Counties where an additional 700 acres are being upgraded:

  • In the Town of Southold (Hashamomuck Pond), approximately 18 acres of uncertified underwater lands will be designated as seasonally certified from December 1 through April 30, annually.
  • In the Town of Southold (Mattituck Creek), approximately 40 acres of uncertified underwater lands will be designated as seasonally certified from January 15 through April 15, annually.
  • In the Town of Southampton (Shinnecock Canal), approximately 19 acres of seasonally uncertified underwater shellfish lands will be designated as certified year round.
  • In the Town of Riverhead (Flanders Bay-Kings Creek), approximately 10 acres of seasonally uncertified underwater shellfish lands will be designated as certified year round.
  • In the Town of Brookhaven (Patchogue Bay), approximately 608 acres of uncertified underwater lands will be designated as certified year round.
  • In the Town of Oyster Bay (Oyster Bay Harbor), approximately 18 acres of seasonally uncertified underwater lands will be designated as certified year round.

DEC will continue monitoring the water quality of these reclassified areas and other certified and seasonally certified areas, comprising nearly 1 million acres in New York’s marine district, as part of its participation in the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. As conditions warrant, DEC will make changes to the classification of shellfish lands to protect the health of shellfish consumers and provide additional harvesting opportunities for commercial and recreational shellfishers.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is available in the March 9, 2011 edition of the State Register at Proposed regulations for the changes in the other towns appeared in the Dec. 29, 2010 edition of the State Register. Proposed regulations are also posted on DEC’s website. DEC’s Shellfisheries office can also be reached at (631) 444-0475 for further information.