Chuck Westfall, left, was one of the original farmers registered...

Chuck Westfall, left, was one of the original farmers registered in the first phase of the Bay Bottom Licensing Program in Islip Town. He and fellow oysterman Cesar Rengifo were recently on a dock in the Great South Bay that they use as a base for oyster farming. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Chuck Westfall doesn’t golf. So when he retired, what else was there to do but start farming oysters?

The Wantagh resident leases seven acres from the Town of Islip’s Bay Bottom Licensing Program in the Great South Bay. That number will eventually rise to 17, with the recent launch of the program’s third phase that has added approximately 1,300 acres off the coast of Heckscher State Park in East Islip to the program’s existing 125. 

“I had been reading about the ecological advantages and the restorative value of aquaculture, and specifically oyster aquaculture, which plays a role in restoring some of the damage done to the estuary,” said Westfall, 70. “And I got interested in it.”

He started oyster farming a little more than a decade ago and was one of the original farmers registered in the program's first phase, according to town officials. Westfall owns Thatch Island Farms and is president of the Long Island Oyster Growers Association. 

Martin Bellew, president of the Islip Resource Recovery Agency, oversees the Bay Bottom Licensing Program. He said Islip started leasing out parcels for phase three in November, at $750 per acre annually. Farmers registered for the third phase can lease up to 10 acres.

The program is run in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which issues permits to farmers, and with the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues authorization for farmers to work, according to town officials. 

Bellew said that under an agreement with New York State, the town can grant a maximum of 10 new leases per year. Farmers grandfathered in through the first two phases have priority. The third phase may eventually accommodate up to 140 farmers, Bellew said. The town website shows that as of December 2022, 270 people are on a waiting list. 

The program is “providing tremendous environmental benefit to the Great South Bay,” Bellew said. Islip Town is trying to repopulate the bay, once famous for its shellfish production, and restore water quality, according to Bellew. Shellfish are filter feeders and help remove excess nitrogen from the water, which contributes to Long Island’s annual spate of harmful algal blooms. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. 

“It’s been shown that shellfish can actually reduce harmful algal blooms,” said Gregg Rivara, an aquaculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “They can keep a bloom from happening by cropping down these harmful algae.”

Shellfish farming equipment also creates underwater habitats by acting as reefs, he said. 

Westfall said the added acreage to the town leasing program “provides the possibility of economy of scale,” allowing Long Island farmers to better compete with out-of-state producers. 

“I tell you, once you start to grow your own food and bring it to market, there’s something primal about that, something that is extremely satisfying, to actually grow a food source and bring it to a marketplace and see people actually consume it,” he said. 

Chuck Westfall doesn’t golf. So when he retired, what else was there to do but start farming oysters?

The Wantagh resident leases seven acres from the Town of Islip’s Bay Bottom Licensing Program in the Great South Bay. That number will eventually rise to 17, with the recent launch of the program’s third phase that has added approximately 1,300 acres off the coast of Heckscher State Park in East Islip to the program’s existing 125. 

“I had been reading about the ecological advantages and the restorative value of aquaculture, and specifically oyster aquaculture, which plays a role in restoring some of the damage done to the estuary,” said Westfall, 70. “And I got interested in it.”

He started oyster farming a little more than a decade ago and was one of the original farmers registered in the program's first phase, according to town officials. Westfall owns Thatch Island Farms and is president of the Long Island Oyster Growers Association. 

Martin Bellew, president of the Islip Resource Recovery Agency, oversees the Bay Bottom Licensing Program. He said Islip started leasing out parcels for phase three in November, at $750 per acre annually. Farmers registered for the third phase can lease up to 10 acres.

The program is run in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which issues permits to farmers, and with the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues authorization for farmers to work, according to town officials. 

Bellew said that under an agreement with New York State, the town can grant a maximum of 10 new leases per year. Farmers grandfathered in through the first two phases have priority. The third phase may eventually accommodate up to 140 farmers, Bellew said. The town website shows that as of December 2022, 270 people are on a waiting list. 

The program is “providing tremendous environmental benefit to the Great South Bay,” Bellew said. Islip Town is trying to repopulate the bay, once famous for its shellfish production, and restore water quality, according to Bellew. Shellfish are filter feeders and help remove excess nitrogen from the water, which contributes to Long Island’s annual spate of harmful algal blooms. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. 

“It’s been shown that shellfish can actually reduce harmful algal blooms,” said Gregg Rivara, an aquaculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “They can keep a bloom from happening by cropping down these harmful algae.”

Shellfish farming equipment also creates underwater habitats by acting as reefs, he said. 

Westfall said the added acreage to the town leasing program “provides the possibility of economy of scale,” allowing Long Island farmers to better compete with out-of-state producers. 

“I tell you, once you start to grow your own food and bring it to market, there’s something primal about that, something that is extremely satisfying, to actually grow a food source and bring it to a marketplace and see people actually consume it,” he said. 

From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

Elisa DiStefano kick-starts summer with the Fun Book show From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book.

From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

Elisa DiStefano kick-starts summer with the Fun Book show From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book.

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