A $580,000 Southampton Town grant will help Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County establish the first bay scallop nursery in Southampton and seed 250,000 scallops throughout town waters.
Southampton Town and Cornell officials gathered at Cornell’s Tiana Bayside Facility in Hampton Bays earlier this month for a ceremonial scallop toss to mark the start of the project intended to improve water quality.
"There are no bay scallop restoration efforts or nurseries in the Town of Southampton, so this is the first of its kind there," said Kim Barbour, Cornell’s Marine Program Outreach manager. "We’re really excited."
Bay scallops, which are typically commercially harvested from November through March, filter water as they feed.
The initiative will also help improve the number of shellfish in the bays, Barbour said. Two years of scallop die-offs recently led the federal government to declare a disaster in the Peconic Bay fishery. However, an ongoing survey funded by New York State and conducted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension and Stony Brook University is finding higher levels of larval scallops than have been seen in 17 years.
The grant money comes from the town’s Community Preservation Fund, which is financed through a 2% tax on real estate transfers. Twenty percent of the fund can be used toward water quality initiatives like the Cornell project.
"This program helps improve our water quality while supporting our local economy and celebrating our marine heritage, making it a winning situation all around," Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said in a news release.
Cornell will be testing the waters near its facility to determine whether the area is a suitable nursery site. The scallops spawn at the Cornell facility at Cedar Beach in Southold and then are raised elsewhere.
An expansion plan for an existing coastal plant nursery at the Hampton Bays site is also underway, enabling more plants to be grown for coastal resiliency and habitat restoration projects, Barbour said.
"Thanks to this grant, we’re going to be able to really scale up those efforts," she said.
The grant also helps fund public outreach and workshops like one focusing on making what is known as marine meadows. Volunteers weave eelgrass into burlap mats that are then buried on the bay bottom to create the scallops’ preferred habitat, Barbour said.
The Southampton Town trustees, a governing body that oversees some underwater lands, has designated a nearby 5-acre expanse as an eel grass sanctuary.