By Stephen J. Kotz
The always much anticipated bay scallop season opened on Monday, and early reports say it will be a decidedly mixed bag.
“We didn’t quite get our limit,” said Briggs Enck, a Montauk bayman, has he pulled his boat out at the Sag Harbor Village launching ramp on Tuesday morning after a morning’s work with his partner, Bret Herlihy of Amagansett. “It’s not like last year, but it’s decent.”
Nick Havens, a bayman from Amagansett, had a decidedly more cautious take. “It’s slowing down quick,” he said as he and Stuart Heath, a Montauk bayman, returned to the dock. “It’s going to be a grind.”
“It’s not as good as we hoped, but it’s better than nothing,” added Mr. Heath, who said the two men had brought in 12 bushels between them on Monday, opening day, and 10 bushes on Tuesday.
“It’s still a day’s pay,” said Mr. Havens.
The daily limit for commercial fishermen is 10 bushels per person, one bushel for recreational shellfishermen. Monday’s opening applies only to state, or outside, waters. The season will open in town waters in two weeks.
Al Daniels, who writes the Outdoors column for this paper, said he was pleasantly surprised when he went out this week. “I went out prospecting a few times before the season, and it looked like it was going to be dismal at best,” he said. “But the first couple of days I found more scallops than I anticipated.”
Mr. Daniels said the only question is “How long it’s going to last. You find a few scallops and there are 50 boats.”
At Stuart’s Seafood in Amagansett, scallops were being offered for $26 a pound on Wednesday. A year ago, during the first week or two of the season, they sold for between $20 and $23 per pound.
“It’s been encouraging thus far, but it is still so early,” said Charlotte Sasso, who owns the shop with her husband, Bruce. “It’s not like a banner opening day where everyone got their limit.” She added, “fishermen are a notoriously pessimistic bunch, so we’ll see.”
Colin Mather, owner of the Seafood Shop in Wainscott, said he would start by selling scallops for $22.95 per pound, but cautioned that it was still too early to tell if it would be a good season.
“For now, it’s just state waters that are open,” he said. “In the next couple weeks when the town waters open, that will tell us.”
Last year, there was an abundant harvest—the best in years—that allowed commercial baymen to keep busy for several months instead of weeks or days as has become more common as deadly algal blooms and habitat loss have combined to reduce the number of scallops.
“I wouldn’t say it’s bleak, but it’s not stellar,” said John “Barley” Dunne, the director of the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery. “It sounds like it’s kind of spotty. I don’t think it’s going to be like last year.”
Mr. Dunne said consumers and baymen alike need to keep in mind that scallop harvests run in cycles. “Unfortunately, it looks like it might be on the downward trend,” he said. “And people need to remember, once they come back, it’s not going to plateau off and be nothing but excellent harvests.”
Mr. Dunne added that East End waters have escaped severe outbreaks of harmful algal blooms the past couple of years, but he said that the loss of eelgrass, a favored habitat for scallops, makes it difficult for the juvenile, or bug, scallops to survive.
“The eelgrass allows them to get out of the way of predators,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s like being a small mouse out in the middle of the desert. Any bird of prey that comes along can see them and they are easy pickings.”
Meanwhile, back at Sag Harbor dock, Mr. Havens and Mr. Heath waxed nostalgic, remembering the days when they could work a couple of hours to get the day’s limit and be back home shucking by mid-morning.
Nowadays, commercial baymen also compete with growing number of recreational shellfishermen, “who take a couple days off from work and once it thins out, they leave the scraps for us.”