A large swath of Port Jefferson Harbor has been opened to shellfishing for the first time in seven years after tests found there was less danger of contaminants caused by sewage and excessive rainfall, state officials have announced.
About 180 acres in the harbor's northeast section will be open through April 17, joining waterways off Shelter Island and Oyster Bay that are temporarily open to shellfishing, Department of Environmental Conservation officials said in a news release.
The last time shellfishing was allowed in that portion of Port Jefferson Harbor was the winter of 2007 and 2008. Commercial clammers need a Brookhaven Town permit.
Town harbormaster Peter Koutrakos said the DEC decision nearly doubles the area where shellfishing is allowed in the harbor. The harbor's northwest section is open most of the year, he said.
"What it actually shows is a change in the waters, I believe," Koutrakos said Thursday in an interview. "It seems more life is showing up in the waters, which is a good thing."
He said six to eight clammers regularly work in the harbor, and two worked the waters Thursday.
Harvesting clams, oysters and other mollusks -- once a booming trade that put Long Island's shellfish-rich waterways on the world's map -- has fallen on hard times in the past three decades due to overfishing and environmental hazards such as brown tide and algae blooms. Long Island clammers once numbered an estimated 7,000 in the early 1980s, but many have given up the trade.
Brookhaven annually plants millions of clam and oyster seeds in Port Jefferson Harbor and other waterways to try to jump-start the region's shellfishing industry.
State officials said Long Island's recent dry spell and other factors allowed them to expand shellfishing, because there is less rainwater runoff that may cause contamination.
DEC officials said recent water samples taken by town employees met "the strict bacteriological standards" set by the state. Officials also verified that a nearby sewage treatment plant was operating effectively, reducing the chances of contamination, DEC officials said.
A 225-acre section of Oyster Bay Harbor reopened last fall and is available for shellfishing through April 12. In Shelter Island, a 113-acre area of Dering Harbor is open to shellfishing until May 15. Shellfishing permits are required in both towns. DEC officials said they are considering reopening waterways in Hempstead and Southampton towns.