The Town of Oyster Bay is investigating the possibility of...

The Town of Oyster Bay is investigating the possibility of building a new town-owned shellfish hatchery at Ransom Beach in Bayville, pictured Thursday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The Town of Oyster Bay is aiming to dramatically bolster its shellfish hatchery operation by creating a facility that every year can put 100 million oysters and clams into the bay, a move environmentalists say is coming at a critical time.

Before oysters and clams make it to plates at restaurants, they start as tiny seeds about the size of a pinhead. They often are nursed in hatcheries to a size large enough to survive predators before being introduced into the open water, where they grow to a harvestable size.

The Town Board passed a measure at its Dec. 12 meeting for The LiRo Group, a Syosset architecture and engineering company, to create a conceptual design for a new town-owned hatchery and assess possible locations for it.

Records show the contract is for up to $221,490. It will be funded with federal pandemic relief money, according to town spokesman Brian Nevin.

Oyster Bay's current hatchery, a smaller operation on the east end of Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, produced 12 million shellfish seeds that were put into the bay in 2023, according to Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino.

“With this build-out, we're going to be realigning and much greatly increasing our production,” Saladino said.

The Town of Oyster Bay is investigating the possibility of...

The Town of Oyster Bay is investigating the possibility of building a new town-owned shellfish hatchery at Ransom Beach in Bayville, pictured Thursday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Shellfish serve as both an economic and environmental boon for Oyster Bay, with a single shellfish filtering around 50 gallons of water a day, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Barry Lamb, conservation committee chair for the nonprofit Friends of the Bay, commended the town’s interest in building a full-scale hatchery. He said the effort “comes at a critical time when the bay is under intense pressure” and the shellfish population is suffering. 

Previously, the Town of Oyster Bay relied on a commercial hatchery operation run by Frank M. Flower & Sons.

The company ceased hatchery operations in 2019 when it became unclear whether its 30-year underwater shell fishing lease with the town, which expires Sept. 30, 2024, would be renewed. 

The vendor's hatchery produced 50 million clams and 50 million oyster seeds annually, according to the company’s lawyer, James Cammarata.

The town sued the shell fishing company in June in an effort to end the vendor’s lease for alleged agreement breaches. But the company denied violating its lease with the town, saying it made payments to the municipality instead of providing a million clam seedlings for annual planting in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbors.

In 2022, 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 in 2022 in an effort to stop the transplanting. It was after the DEC issued a permit to Frank M. Flower & Sons for transplanting clams this year that the town board voted in April to start litigation against the company. 

“The establishment of a hatchery and long-term sustainable shellfish management is critical,” Rob Crafa, coordinator of environmental group Oyster Bay — Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee, said of the town's plans for a larger hatchery. 

DEC data assessing the number of clams and oysters in the bay that Friends of the Bay compiled show a stark decrease in populations since the mid-2010s.

Saladino said Ransom Beach in Bayville is being considered as one of the potential locations for the new hatchery.

A proposal LiRo submitted to the town indicate a hatchery building there would be about 10,000 square feet and also include nursery tanks outside. The company didn't respond to interview requests.

Town officials said they expect to award a hatchery construction contract by the end of 2024, before the building would start in 2025.

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