A famous local bivalve is making a big comeback.
Islip Town officials hailed the resurgence of the Blue Point oyster, which has flourished in the past two years in the Great South Bay and is ready for harvest this fall.
While impostor Blue Point oysters dominate seafood menus across the region, baymen say a rarely-enforced state law dictates that true Blue Point oysters must come from the Great South Bay -- a harvest that hasn't happened in decades due to overfishing.
"This is the first time in 30 years a true Blue Point oyster has been grown in the Great South Bay," said bayman Doug Winter at a news conference Wednesday at the Great Atlantic Shellfish Farms near the East Islip marina.
"Certainly, the oyster industry in this world is renowned for its beginnings on the Great South Bay, and in the waters that produce Blue Point oysters," said Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci.
In 2012, the town privatized its shellfish hatchery to save the $650,000 it cost annually to run the town-owned hatchery. The hatchery was sold to the Sexton Island True Blue company, run by Winter and his brother Kerry, who now operate it as Great Atlantic Shellfish Farms.
The town also leased about 100 acres of the Great South Bay's fertile soil to shellfish farmers at $750 per acre as part of five-year contracts. The town has a waiting list for future acreage to be leased out.
The farmers seed the bay to grow future crops of oysters and clams, and water quality improves with each oyster capable of filtering as many as 50 gallons of water a day.
"We are particularly proud as a town to be stewards of the environment -- not only are we raising valuable commodities in the oyster and shellfish industry but we're cleaning our water every day," Croci said.
The hatchery and its crops was nearly destroyed by superstorm Sandy, but the farm has been rebuilt and now provides oysters to about 20 restaurants around Fire Island and the South Shore, Winter said.
He expects that with more acreage available for leasing in the future, the bay could be producing up to a million farmed oysters in the next few years.
Councilman Steve Flotteron praised the briny and clean flavors of the oysters from the Great South Bay. "I'm a big seafood fan, but oysters I could take it or leave it," he said. "But these oysters, they just slide right down."