A few months ago, baymen across the East End were looking forward to a big scallop season, a harvest so thick and rich it would bring back memories of record crops from decades ago.
Checks of scallop beds during the spring and early summer showed the tiny, tasty shellfish were growing well, and there were more than had been seen in years.
But something yet to be identified began killing off many of the scallops, and superstorm Sandy finished the job. The storm introduced so much pollution into the bays that the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a closure order that put off the opening of scallop season, an order renewed Tuesday for most of the bigger bays on Long Island.
But the blanket closure of bays to shellfishing was slightly modified Tuesday to allow the harvest of shellfish in part of Noyack Bay in Southampton, part of Northwest Harbor and Napeague Bay in East Hampton, and some normally certified shellfish areas in Shelter Island, Smithtown and Brookhaven's north shore.
But the scallops are gone.
"It's devastating," said Eric Schultz, president of the Southold Town trustees, an independently elected body that protects the town's natural resources. "There was so much hope. . . . Now they're gone."
The scallop season normally begins on the first Monday in November, but the approach of Sandy -- which produced coastal flooding that washed pollutants and bacteria into the bays and creeks -- caused the DEC to close Long Island waters to shellfishing on Oct. 29.
That ban ran through Nov. 13, and was extended Tuesday to Nov. 20. The emergency order noted the flooding ". . . disrupted sewage treatment plants and flooded nearshore septic systems, resulting in conditions which may cause shellfish to be hazardous for use as food . . ."
In the 1970s and 1980s, annual 400,000 to 500,000-pound scallop harvests were common. But toxic brown tide algae blooms and other problems nearly killed the industry. In 1996, 53 pounds were harvested.
Massive seeding programs, replanting of eelgrass and other measures have helped bring the annual harvest back to nearly 10,000 pounds a year.
But the storm and the scallop die-off -- coupled with algae blooms and closure of some harvest areas because of pollution -- are expected to have a serious impact on this year's harvest. "The scallop season is shot," said Southampton trustee Fred Havemeyer.
DEC officials say they will continue to evaluate shellfishing areas to see when they can be reopened.