A vessel of Frank M. Flower & Sons, a company...

A vessel of Frank M. Flower & Sons, a company the town has sued to try to end its lease for underwater lands early, seen here in 2017 off Oyster Bay. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Town of Oyster Bay has alleged in a new lawsuit that shellfish company Frank M. Flower & Sons violated its lease with the town for underwater land use starting about four years ago by failing to plant clam seeds in Oyster Bay Harbor and Cold Spring Harbor.

The civil suit, filed in June in state Supreme Court in Mineola, is an attempt by Oyster Bay to trigger an early termination of the lease and the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between the town and vendor.

Attorney James Cammarata, who represents Frank M. Flower & Sons, declined to comment on the lawsuit and hasn't filed a response in court papers yet. The parties are due in court on Aug. 2.

The town has alleged that for about four years the shellfish company failed to provide a minimum of one million hatchery-produced clams annually, as required under its lease.

Underwater Lease Terms

• Began Oct. 1, 1994

• Expires Sept. 30, 2024

• More than 1,400 acres of underwater land 

• Yearly rent initially $14.47 per acre plus adjustments for inflation in later years

Source: Oyster Bay lawsuit against Frank M. Flower & Sons

The company ceased hatchery operations in 2019 when it became unclear whether its town lease, which expires on Sept. 30, 2024, would be renewed, Newsday previously reported

The clams were supposed to be seeded on unleased shellfish beds in Oyster Bay Harbor and Cold Spring Harbor, according to the lease, a lawsuit exhibit shows.

"The Town sought compliance from the company prior to taking legal action," Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email.

The seeding of both leased and unleased underwater lands is necessary “to restore the shellfish habitat and natural environmental protection it provides,” the lawsuit states. “Such ‘seeding’ of the immature shellfish is crucially important to replace the grown and harvested shellfish that provide the necessary water filtration to prevent pollution.”

The 2019 closure of the Frank M. Flower & Sons hatchery in Bayville was a shift in its business that endangers the environment, the nonprofit environmental group Friends of the Bay said last week in a statement.

“In our view, this effectively transformed the operation from 'shellfish farmers' to 'shellfish miners,' was not consistent with the intention of the lease, and is harmful to the bay,” the statement added. “Since 2019 the company has been dredging to strip the bottom of all marketable shellfish, leaving little behind.”

Last year the company began transplanting shellfish from Mill Neck Creek to Oyster Bay Harbor for later harvesting under a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The company cannot directly harvest shellfish from Mill Neck Creek under state regulations.

The town unsuccessfully sued the company last year in an effort to stop the transplanting. After the DEC issued a permit to Frank M. Flower & Sons for transplanting clams this year, the town board voted in April to sue the state and shellfish company.

The new litigation from the town, which doesn't name the DEC, alleges that in addition to the failure to provide hatchery-produced clams, Frank M. Flower & Sons failed to properly mark the boundaries of its leased underwater lands and has gone outside those boundaries with mechanical dredging.

“I'm hopeful that the town could show them going on to the public side with their dredge equipment,” said Bill Painter, president of the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association.

The group represents independent shell fishermen and has long clashed with Frank M. Flower & Sons.

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