Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine on Thursday explained the importance of protecting shellfish in Long Island's waters after the town's survey of shellfish in parts of the Great South Bay found few reproducing clams.   Credit: Randee Daddona

Brookhaven Town's biennial survey of shellfish in the western portion of the Great South Bay found few reproducing clams, raising concerns about continued degradation of the marine environment.

The survey, being conducted over eight days in the waters off Patchogue and Bellport, on Thursday found one clam for every square meter of water, compared with 11.5 clams in the same area about 30 years ago, Brookhaven Town officials said.

In the last survey in 2016, two clams were found for every square meter of water, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said.

And the clams that have been found this week are old and not reproducing; any young clams are being eaten by crabs and other sea predators.

“We’re in a struggle to bring this bay back," Romaine said Thursday during a town Division of Environmental Protection survey dredging project.

Despite the barge being littered with shells, crews only managed to pull up clumps of mud with few clams and oysters during dredging work Thursday.

The project is expected to end next week. Final results won't be available for a few months, officials said.

Workers dredging from a barge during the shellfish survey conducted by...

Workers dredging from a barge during the shellfish survey conducted by Brookhaven Division of Environmental Protection on Patchogue Bay from Blue Point on Thursday. Credit: Randee Daddona

Town officials attribute the deterioration to overharvesting, larger municipal populations and nitrogen contamination from sewage and cesspools.

The health of the clams reflects the health of the water and, conversely, the health of the water reflects that of the clams officials said. The bivalves can filter 35 gallons of water per day.

“Clams tell us the health of the bays in terms of contamination and nitrogen,” Romaine said.

Town officials said they expect the number of clams to increase as the survey moves toward the eastern section of the bay in Bellport, where the shellfish have been moving to spawn.

Workers fromBrookhaven Town dredge during the shellfish survey on Thursday.

Workers fromBrookhaven Town dredge during the shellfish survey on Thursday. Credit: Randee Daddona

“That’s not the norm,” Tom Carrano, a Brookhaven Town marine life consultant said.

Brookhaven has undertaken several projects to help increase the number of shellfish in the bay. 

The town board unanimously adopted a $400,000 bond resolution in June for an expansion at the Mount Sinai Mariculture hatchery facility. The move ensured the hatchery at Cedar Beach would produce an additional 1 million shellfish over the next two years.

Brookhaven also provides schools and organizations, including the Moriches Bay Project, Stony Brook Yacht Club, Western Suffolk BOCES, the Mount Sinai school district and Friends of Bellport Bay, with rafts for developing shellfish and mooring supplies.

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