Stony Brook University this spring will study the best places...

Stony Brook University this spring will study the best places to build oyster reefs in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring harbors. Credit: Brittainy Newman

Scientists soon will start a three-year study to find the best places to build oyster reefs in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring harbors, a technique they consider essential to expanding the shellfish population.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund awarded a $477,200 federal grant to Stony Brook University in December to fund the research, which will begin this spring. It will include collaboration from Adelphi University and the nonprofit Friends of the Bay. 

The grant is one of 39 recent federal awards totaling $12 million aimed at improving the health of Long Island Sound.

Reefs allow shellfish to clump together and flourish. For oysters to settle, a strong adult population is needed before younger oysters can cling to those shells and grow to a harvestable size. 

The latest study will help show which areas have the greatest chance to foster oyster growth, according to Adelphi professor Aaren Freeman.

“There’s really currently no guidance, no information about where in Oyster Bay that might be,” he said.

The project will build on research Freeman did with his Adelphi colleague, professor Ryan Wallace, who both will take part in the study. For the past 18 months, they have studied water quality and the way oyster larvae disperse in the bay.

Oyster populations have dwindled throughout parts of the East Coast and in Oyster Bay, triggered by degraded water quality and overharvesting, according to Freeman.

Stony Brook professor Christopher Gobler said the study will involve a new technique called eDNA.

Scientists will gather gallons of water and use a digital polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to detect oyster genes that are too small to see with a microscope, according to Gobler, who teaches in Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

He said the study will mark the first time the technique is used in New York.

As a whole, the research will involve growing oysters, looking at oyster spawning and settlement patterns, and examining water quality and the flow of water across the ecosystem, according to Gobler.

Heather Johnson, who served until recently as Friends of the Bay's executive director, said the study “has the potential to be a game changer for the bay along with other programs and projects running concurrently.” 

Separately, the Town of Oyster Bay is aiming to bolster its shellfish hatchery operation by exploring locations that could host a municipal facility capable of producing 100 million oysters and clams a year to be put in the bay.

In December, the town hired a Syosset company to look for sites and create a conceptual design for such a hatchery. The town's current hatchery produced 12 million shellfish seeds in 2023, according to Oyster Bay officials.

Previously, the town 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 in September, would be renewed.

The town sued the shell fishing company last year to try to end that lease early, but the company has denied any contract breaches.

Scientists soon will start a three-year study to find the best places to build oyster reefs in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring harbors, a technique they consider essential to expanding the shellfish population.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund awarded a $477,200 federal grant to Stony Brook University in December to fund the research, which will begin this spring. It will include collaboration from Adelphi University and the nonprofit Friends of the Bay. 

The grant is one of 39 recent federal awards totaling $12 million aimed at improving the health of Long Island Sound.

Reefs allow shellfish to clump together and flourish. For oysters to settle, a strong adult population is needed before younger oysters can cling to those shells and grow to a harvestable size. 

The latest study will help show which areas have the greatest chance to foster oyster growth, according to Adelphi professor Aaren Freeman.

“There’s really currently no guidance, no information about where in Oyster Bay that might be,” he said.

The project will build on research Freeman did with his Adelphi colleague, professor Ryan Wallace, who both will take part in the study. For the past 18 months, they have studied water quality and the way oyster larvae disperse in the bay.

Oyster populations have dwindled throughout parts of the East Coast and in Oyster Bay, triggered by degraded water quality and overharvesting, according to Freeman.

Stony Brook professor Christopher Gobler said the study will involve a new technique called eDNA.

Scientists will gather gallons of water and use a digital polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to detect oyster genes that are too small to see with a microscope, according to Gobler, who teaches in Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

He said the study will mark the first time the technique is used in New York.

As a whole, the research will involve growing oysters, looking at oyster spawning and settlement patterns, and examining water quality and the flow of water across the ecosystem, according to Gobler.

Heather Johnson, who served until recently as Friends of the Bay's executive director, said the study “has the potential to be a game changer for the bay along with other programs and projects running concurrently.” 

Separately, the Town of Oyster Bay is aiming to bolster its shellfish hatchery operation by exploring locations that could host a municipal facility capable of producing 100 million oysters and clams a year to be put in the bay.

In December, the town hired a Syosset company to look for sites and create a conceptual design for such a hatchery. The town's current hatchery produced 12 million shellfish seeds in 2023, according to Oyster Bay officials.

Previously, the town 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 in September, would be renewed.

The town sued the shell fishing company last year to try to end that lease early, but the company has denied any contract breaches.

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