East Hampton, The Last Hope For A Robust Scallop Harvest, Proves Unspared From Scarcity

Scallopers descened on Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton on Sunday in hopes of collecting bushel baskets full of bay scallops but found precious few of the valuable shellfish.

Cooler waters and fewer blooms of murderous algae do not seem to have spared East Hampton waters from the disastrous bay scallop harvest that is being experienced in the western portions of the Peconic Estuary.

Recreational gatherers and commercial harvesters alike reported finding only sparse numbers of scallops in town waters when the season opened in East Hampton this week.

“It was really bad, the worst [scallop season] I’ve had,” said Greg Verity, a bayman from Wainscott. “I went all over, there were some bugs, but otherwise it was pretty barren.”

Mr. Verity said that the five commercial baymen who worked Three Mile Harbor on Monday each got barely more than a bushel of scallops for two or three hours of work. A commercial bayman is allowed to take as many as five bushels of scallops — about 40 pounds worth of meat.

Bugs are the common name for young-of-the-year scallops, those that were born of this year’s early summer spawn and are not yet of harvestable size. It takes a scallop about 15 months to grow to harvestable size and scallops are generally thought to only live about 18 months.

Mr. Verity’s report jibes with what scientists from the Cornell Cooperative Extension reported from surveys in October: the vast majority of adult scallops appear to have died over the summer but spawned beforehand, leaving a healthy supply of their offspring behind.

It is the second year in a row that the harvestable scallops have been all but wiped out over the summer months — a phenomenon that biologists have said seems to be linked to a combination of a newly identified parasite, high water temperatures and, ironically, the stresses of the act of spawning.

The poor harvest will mean that bay scallop prices at market will be very high again this year.

At Clamman Seafood Market in Southampton Village, bay scallops were marked at $39.95 per pound on Tuesday, and just a small tray with a couple pounds of the tender white morsels were available. In good years, the meat typically sells for between $17 and $20 per pound.

For those who would rather scrounge up their own scallop appetizers, the scarcity can be frustrating and may require more time spent with dive gear or hunched over a “look box.”

“It was slim pickin’s,” said Roy Dalane, who mounts an annual foray to Three Mile Harbor with family and friends on opening day of the scallop season. “You had to cover a lot of water to get a few scallops.”

His group of eight hunter-gatherers hit the water shortly after 6 a.m. on Sunday and spent about two hours, most of them swimming in wetsuits, picking along the bottom of the harbor just south of Sammy’s Beach. When they reconvened on dry land, they had about two bushels of scallops between them — plenty to feed a warm afternoon of shucking and snacking but hardly a banner day.

“Two years ago was a banner year. We got about a bushel apiece,” Mr. Dalene said. “But we’re not out there to make a killing. The weather was beautiful and when you looked back across the harbor at the people out there with their look boxes and the water like a mirror, it was a great day.”