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Shellfish harvester says lease issues with Oyster Bay putting business, health of harbor at risk

Clams are washed aboard a Frank M. Flower

Clams are washed aboard a Frank M. Flower & Sons fishing boat in Oyster Bay Harbor. The company's hatchery produces about 50 million clam seeds annually. Credit: Barry Sloan

Uncertainty over the future of shellfishing lands in Oyster Bay Harbor is jeopardizing the health of the aquaculture, according to the company that has harvested clams and oysters there for more than a century.

Frank M. Flower & Sons has stopped seeding the bay that has an average of more than 100 million oyster and clam seeds annually because it doesn’t know whether Oyster Bay officials will give the company a new lease to harvest them when they mature, said James Cammarata, the company’s lawyer.

"We had to shut down because we didn’t have a lease," Christa Relyea, the company’s general manager, said of their hatchery and seeding operation.

The company’s 30-year lease expires in 2024.

In 2020, the town rejected bids from Frank M. Flower and others to lease the land’s 800 acres of shellfishing beds in Oyster Bay Harbor, citing lack of tax information from the bidders.

Cammarata said that without a lease the company could go out of business.

"If you are not going to be in business anymore, why would you spend a million and a half dollars to put seed down that there’s a chance by the time it matures, it’s not going to be available for us to harvest?" Cammarata said.

According to the company, the biomass of shellfish plays a key role filtering the water.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said the town was not putting the company out of business but gave no indication when it might reissue a request for proposals.

"We are exploring a multitude of different options of how to best manage the resources and environmental health of the bay," Saladino said in an interview Thursday. He said the town wants to be fair to all stakeholders, including independent baymen. "We’re continuing to look into this with our legal team and environmental team to ensure that the process is fair to all."

Saladino said the town doesn’t have any documentation regarding how many shellfish seeds Frank M. Flower had been putting in the bay. Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said the company has been evasive on that count. Cammarata said the company’s seeding operations are a "matter of public record" and are filed with New York State and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Cammarata said copies have been provided to the town.

The town’s hatchery is expected to put out 10 million shellfish seeds this year in protected parts of the bay, Saladino said.

The nonprofit Friends of the Bay said it is concerned about the decline of the shellfish population.

"Frank M. Flower & Sons ceased its hatchery and seeding operations two years ago, resulting in a situation where harvesting has continued without commercial reseeding of oysters and clams," the group said in a statement Thursday. "We have had discussions with the town about the steps that they can take to address the problem and have been encouraged by their planned actions."

FRANK M. FLOWER & SONS

Founded in 1887

Hatchery produced about 50 million clam seeds and 50 million oyster seeds annually

Oysters take 2 years to reach market size

Clams take 3-4 years to reach market size

Operates in Oyster Bay Harbor under a 30-year lease with the town of Oyster Bay

Lease expires in 2024

SOURCE: Frank M. Flower & Sons

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