A section of Patchogue Bay where shellfishing is generally banned during the summer to allow clams and oysters to grow has been partially opened by Brookhaven Town to help baymen ply their trade.
The town board voted 7-0 on Thursday to add about 900 acres where fishing will be allowed from May 1 to Sept. 30 in bay waters between Blue Point and Bellport.
Previously the area, known to baymen as “winter grounds” because it is a prime area to fish in the fall and winter, had been listed by the town as an uncertified, or restricted, area.
Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the area where summer fishing is legal will be more than double what it was before.
The town board vote eliminates a discrepancy between Brookhaven and state restrictions on winter grounds fishing, said Craig Strong, a Brookhaven bay management specialist. The town’s restrictions had covered a larger area than the state, causing some confusion among baymen and hurting their ability to work and make a living, he said.
“Now they’ll have more of that area available to them year-round,” Strong told Newsday.
The town’s action is unrelated to a separate plan to double the size of a 2-acre shellfish restoration area in Bellport Bay. The Brookhaven Baymen’s Association has opposed that plan, saying it would limit fishing during the winter.
The town board has not yet voted on expanding the Bellport Bay restoration area.
Shellfishing, once one of Long Island’s biggest industries, declined through the 1980s and 1990s due to a combination of overfishing and environmental degradation caused by brown tide and sewage discharges.
Efforts in recent years to protect shellfish and encourage restoration of habitat sometimes have come into conflict with the interests of fishermen, whose numbers have dwindled.
John German, a veteran bayman from Brookhaven hamlet, said Thursday that he appreciated the town’s gesture, but said he wasn’t sure it would help too many fishermen.
“Most of the guys do their work east of that,” German, 75, told Newsday. “It’s important, but it’s not that important. It’s nice to have [the winter grounds] in the wintertime.”
The greater challenge for baymen over the past four decades has been the decline of clams and oysters that once were plentiful in local waters, German said.
“In the past there were thousands of guys,” he said. “Now there’s just a handful.”