DEC proposes reduced quota for surf clams

Clams caught by fishermen Bill Painter and Bill

Clams caught by fishermen Bill Painter and Bill Fetzer of Bayville are pictured in Oyster Bay. (April 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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The state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing a 25 percent reduction in the number of surf clams that can be taken from New York State waters after a recent survey found the population of the large ocean bivalves had suffered a 40 percent decline since 2008.

The proposal would lower the total number of bushels that can be taken from New York waters three miles from shore to 225,000 bushels a year, down from the current 300,000. There are 22 permits issued for surf-clam harvesting, but no new permits have been issued for decades.

The summer survey found the total number of surf clams has decreased to an estimated 470 million, a 40 percent decline since 2008, when the last survey was conducted.

In a statement, the DEC said the reductions are "necessary in order to protect the long-term sustainability of the resource and economic viability of the surf-clam fishery."

J. Lee Snead, a Bellport lawyer who represents more than a dozen permit-holding companies, called the survey and its recommended reductions "problematic."

He said was reviewing the survey report and would issue comments to the DEC.

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"We will be asking them not to reduce it but to increase it," he said of the quota.

The agency did not offer explanations for the reductions, which can be environmental or because of overharvesting.

Bob Doxsee, a retired surf-clammer and one-time processor whose family sold its generations-old clamming interests last year, said he believed biological factors rather than overharvesting are behind the decline.

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"For the population to increase there has to be reproduction," but new sets of young clams aren't in evidence, he said.Newsday has previously reported that nearly all of the state surf-clam permits issued by the DEC are held or fished by holding companies with out-of-state ties to a large clamming conglomerate. State law requires permit holders to be New York residents, but a loophole doesn't prevent the secondary holding-company ownership.

The DEC had said it was looking into the matter, but Lori Servino, a DEC spokeswoman, yesterday said, "No action [has been] taken."

Newsday has reported the state Attorney General has interviewed two current surf-clam permit holders as part of a preliminary inquiry of the fishery.

Winter Harbor Brands, the company that conducted the population survey through a $67,000 no-bid contract to the DEC, has ties to the New Jersey surf-clamming company owners, Martin and Leroy Truex.

An estimated 5.2 million bushels of surf clams are believed to remain for harvest in state waters, the DEC reported, a 24 percent reduction. Surf-clams that are below the legal limit represent around 6 percent of the surveyed population, the DEC estimate found, down from the 10 percent estimated in the 2008 survey.

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DEC will alert permit holders to the proposed changes in the fishery and seek comments, and announce the finalized limit by Nov. 15. It will take effect in January.

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