A boat from Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc. in...

A boat from Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc. in Oyster Bay last August. The company harvests shellfish in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A national environmental law organization has notified a company that harvests shellfish in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor that it intends to sue in federal court to stop the mechanical harvesting technique the company uses unless it obtains a federal permit to conduct such operations.

A March 20 letter to Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc. from San Francisco-based Earth Justice alleges the company is violating the Clean Water Act by not having a permit to conduct “hydraulic dredging.” Earth Justice is representing the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association — a group of independent shellfishers — as well as Sag Harbor-based Defend H20 and the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety.

Representatives for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation said Monday that Flower has all required permits, as did James Cammarata, the attorney for Flower.

But Christopher Amato, the Earth Justice attorney who wrote the notice of intent to sue, said Flower hasn’t had the required permitting for years.

Flower has a lease with the Town of Oyster Bay to harvest shellfish over more than 1,800 acres through 2024. Part of the dispute is over the term “dredging.”

Cammarata said the technique the company uses “is not dredging from a regulatory sense.” If the company were dredging, it would need an additional permit, he said.

Dredging involves removing and redepositing marine life, something he said Flower doesn’t do. But Army Corps spokesman Hector Mosley said Monday that the agency views Flower’s activities as “regulated dredging.”

William Painter, president of the baymen’s group, said independent shellfishers’ harvest is down significantly because sediment from Flower dredging travels hundreds of feet into their harvest area.

Experts said the effect of dredging depends on location and frequency. The DEC said in a statement that its review of harvest data “does not suggest a decline in Oyster Bay’s shellfish population.”

Kevin McAllister, president of Defend H20 and a marine biologist, said “the collateral damage to the ecosystem as a whole is being dismissed, ignored . . . This is persistent, chronic dredging operations. The ability for the ecosystem to recover is not so easy.”

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