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Hempstead to upgrade hatchery to boost shellfish population

Town Supervisor Laura Gillen tours the shellfish hatchery

Town Supervisor Laura Gillen tours the shellfish hatchery in Point Lookout with Stephen Naham on June 20. Credit: Jeff Bachner

A $400,000 state grant will go toward improving equipment that will help shellfish grow more quickly at the Point Lookout hatchery.

The town’s grant is part of $1.6 million to four Long Island municipalities to improve their public shellfish hatcheries, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The other towns are Brookhaven, East Hampton and Islip.

The state is working to restore the shellfish population along Long Island’s coasts following overharvesting and harmful algae blooms called “brown tides.”

In the Great South Bay, clam harvest has decreased by more than 93 percent over the past 25 years because of overharvesting in the 1970s and early 1980s, according to the DEC. The bay once produced more than half the clams eaten in the United States.

“Revitalizing our back bays is essential for the Long Beach Barrier Island and its surrounding communities,” state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) in a statement. “This shellfish hatchery will lay the groundwork for the rebirth of a vibrant local fishing industry, while also cleaning our waters.”

Hempstead officials said the town’s clam nursery was established in the early 1980s and they had to buy juvenile clams, called seed. They have since added a hatchery where they spawn clams and oysters. This year was the first time the town didn’t need to purchase seed from an outside facility.

Supervisor Laura Gillen said in addition to providing a living for local baymen, shellfish act as a natural filter for waterways and it’s important to repopulate them in Hempstead Bay.

“The Town of Hempstead is a South Shore community that has always been focused on our beaches and our waterways,” she said.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension in Southold will also study Hempstead Bay to find out where a sanctuary site — a place where the shellfish cannot be commercially harvested — could be to most improve the water quality, officials said. Stony Brook University will also be working with the town to analyze the water.

The town will use the grant to upgrade equipment that will allow the shellfish to grow more quickly, according to town conservation biologist Stephen Naham.

The facility, at the town’s West Marina along Reynolds Channel, currently produces 2 million clams and half-million oysters, Naham said. After the new equipment is installed, output should increase to 6 million clams and 6 million oysters.

Some of the upgrades will be done by town crews, while some of the work and equipment will need to be put out for bids, he said. The costs will be covered by the state grant.

“It shows our commitment to the environment and we will continue to try to access funding and find creative, cost-efficient solutions to protect the environment in the Town of Hempstead,” said Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, the town board’s majority leader who represents Point Lookout.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation awarded $1.6 million in grants to the towns of Brookhaven, East Hampton, Islip and Hempstead.

Each grant is about $400,000.

  • The towns must hand over at least 15 percent of their shellfish yield associated with the hatchery expansion to shellfish sanctuaries that will be established on Long Island from 2020 to 2024.
  • The four towns are expected to produce an estimated 26 million hard clams and 18 million oysters as a result of the hatchery improvements.

Source: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

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