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Shellfish revival could pay off for Long Island

From left, State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, left,

From left, State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, left, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo listen as Chris Pickerell, director of the marine program at the Cornell Cooperative Extension, explains the Long Island Shellfish Restoration Project on Sept. 6, 2017 in Huntington. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

There are a lot of good things to say about the big new clam and oyster restoration program for Long Island announced last week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The goal is admirable: to repopulate the shellfish beds that once were at the heart of a thriving and iconic industry, and to use the ability of those clams and oysters to filter nitrogen to clean local waters. And the numbers are impressive: $10.4 million to purchase adult shellfish and expand or build public hatcheries to get them to spawn and produce juveniles, and 179 million clams and oysters to be seeded in five impaired water bodies over the next two years.

But the best thing about the program is that it will use research from the past decade to try to avoid the mistakes of the past, when seed clams were dropped in waters so polluted they had little chance of surviving. The new plan, developed by Professor Chris Gobler of Stony Brook University, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and state officials, will use data to determine whether to use oysters or clams in particular locations, whether adults or juveniles have the best chance of success, and which water bodies to seed. The team chose five areas where it thinks shellfish can reproduce and where the water can be restored rather quickly — Huntington Harbor, Hempstead Bay, South Oyster Bay, Bellport Bay and Shinnecock Bay. As that happens, surrounding waters also should become cleaner and the program can expand.

Cuomo deserves credit for focusing on one of the region’s most intractable problems, asking questions and injecting urgency into the search for solutions. The potential payoff is exciting: the transformation and restoration of some of the waters and the tasty bivalves that long defined the best of work and play on Long Island. 


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