Peconic Estuary Program Connects Scallop Disaster to High Bay Temperatures and Global Warming

Scientists say that as much as 95 percent of adult bay scallops in the Peconics died mysteriously mid-summer. Thousands of empty shells, like this one photographed by Cornell Cooperative Extension researchers, is all that remains of a once giant set of scallops.

The Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) staff issued a statement last Friday suggesting that this year’s catastrophic die-off of adult scallops in the Peconic Bay system may be linked to global warming causing high temperatures and low levels of dissolved oxygen in bay waters over the summer.

Meanwhile, it’s hard if not impossible to find scallops in local shops at any price. The Seafood Shop in Wainscott had none on Monday, nor did the Clamman in Southampton, although a person answering the phone there said, “We might have some coming in this afternoon; I don’t know.”

Someone answering the phone at Cor-J Seafood in Hampton Bays said they’d obtained only 15 pounds of Peconic Bay scallops to sell since the season had opened on November 4. “It’s pretty much been a bust,” she said.

An East Hampton resident, who asked her name not be used in print, said on Tuesday she’d been scalloping in Three Mile Harbor with six other recreational shellfishers and they’d collected six bushels of scallops altogether. The Town of East Hampton regularly releases or “seeds” scallops into the harbor that were raised at its shellfish hatchery. The population in the open waters of the Peconic Bay system, which appeared robust early this summer, before the abrupt die-off, is largely the result of natural reproduction.

In its November 8 statement, the PEP staff wrote that “increasing global ocean temperatures and warmer water will be a continuing concern as we begin to feel the effects of a warming climate. Warmer waters are more vulnerable to the effects of nutrient pollution” from leaching in-ground septic systems and other sources.

The PEP staff noted that water temperatures in the bay system reached into the 80s over the summer.

“We at the Peconic Estuary Program are deeply saddened by the scallop die-off that has transpired in the Peconic Bays,” the statement reads. “We have been aware of this situation and are working with our scientific partners to gain a better understanding of why the recent die-off of adult scallop populations occurred.”

The Peconic Estuary Program is a partnership of local, state and federal government agencies, citizens, environmental groups, academic institutions and others set up to encourage measures to protect and preserve the bay system after it was designated one of 28 “national estuaries” in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.