New York DEC to Reopen 2,500 Acres of Shellfishing Areas
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 the reopening of shellfish harvesting areas in approximately 2,500 acres of outer Hempstead Harbor, Nassau County.
“The announcement today of the reopening of 2,500 acres of shellfishing lands in Hempstead Harbor for the first time in more than 40 years is a major achievement for the environment and the people of Long Island,” said Commissioner Martens. “It’s also a testament to the power of a commitment to partnership over decades between the state and local governments who, with strong community support, were able to improve water quality in historic Hempstead Harbor and restore a way of life that has been part of Long Island’s heritage and economy for hundreds of years.”
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 a health concern.
With the elimination of many industrial uses around the harbor over the past forty years 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 and 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.
“The shellfish opening is perhaps the greatest milestone yet in our efforts to restore Hempstead Harbor. Not only will shellfishing create jobs and provide increased recreational opportunities for the residents but this very tangible achievement provides clear proof that far-off visions can become reality when governments come together around a problem and work closely with citizens and others toward those goals,” said Bill Clemency, Chair of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee.
“Reopening the shellfishing program in Nassau County’s waters is great news. The shellfish industry is an extremely important component of Long Island’s economy and will keep our baymen working local waters for years to come,” said Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano.
“We are honored to have played a significant role in the long-hoped-for reopening of shellfish harvesting areas in waters of North Hempstead and adjacent Towns,” said Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman. “This development portends a time in the future when shellfishing, commercial and recreational, will become a mainstay in communities across Long Island, a sure sign that our waters are environmentally healthy and residents have grown more environmentally aware.”
“Preserving and enhancing water quality is an environmental legacy for which I would like my administration to be remembered,” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said. “I am very proud of the role the Town played in bringing about the reopening of Hempstead Harbor to shellfishing. Working with the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor and other groups and governmental agencies, it is a testament to what can be accomplished when residents and government work together. Everyone involved is to be commended. The work is not done, though, and the Town remains committed to working toward the day when the remainder of the harbor will be open to shellfishing.”
“Reopening shellfish beds is a clear and meaningful indicator that regulations protecting our harbors and estuaries are working. Shellfish populations not only have an economic worth to Long Island but also a maritime historical value and environmental significance as well. Programs such as upgrading sewage treatment plants, filtering stormwater and protecting our wetlands should be aggressively pursued. Every Long Islander benefits from cleaner bays and estuaries, and CCE commends the DEC for their vigilance in protecting them,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
DEC’s regulations will reclassify approximately 2,500 acres of underwater lands to certified year-round shellfish harvesting areas. 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 available. 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. An updated map, showing the small semi-circular closed area that is included in the final rule, is currently accessible on the DEC website.
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, the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee and 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.
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 shellfishing.
The Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee is Long Island’s first inter-municipal watershed-based collaborative effort. It consists of nine local governments – the County of Nassau, the Towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead, the City of Glen Cove and the Villages of Sea Cliff, Roslyn Harbor, Roslyn, Flower Hill and Sands Point. It was formed in 1995 and is funded through municipal contributions and grants.