Baymen Sound Alarm Over Shellfish Dredging

How the clams you buy were taken from local waters cold have a big effect of the health of environmental waters.

How the clams you buy were taken from local waters cold have a big effect of the health of environmental waters.

By James Kelly
jvk@longislandergroup.com

The Town of Huntington is reviewing restrictions on mechanical dredging for shellfish.  Councilman Mark Cuthbertson will be moving to restructure the Commercial Fishing Advisory Council, and have members review the effect of mechanical dredging on the Town of Huntington waterways and its impact on clam and oyster beds.

“Think of basic physics, mechanical will have more degradation,” said attorney Darrin H. Berger who is representing the North Shore Baymen’s Association in opposition to mechanical dredging.  He went on to explain that mechanical dredging is a “Type 1 Action” under state environmental quality review laws, meaning it is more likely to have a significant impact on the environment. Hand harvesting and raking for clams and oysters have no significant impact.  Berger said the mechanical dredge is much larger and heavier and is moved with the assistance of power.  Rakes on the other hand are limited by human strength, a lot less than boat-pulled dredges.

Baymen’s Association president Charlie Murphy  said there are two basic issues:

First is protecting the environment. With mechanical boat-pulled dredges, shellfish beds are disrupted and the cycle of rebirth can be destroyed. This can be detrimental to more than the clams; the overall environmental health of our waters is at risk.  Last summer our beaches were often closed due to poor water quality.  One of the key reasons was the over harvesting of clams and oysters through the use of mechanical dredging. Murphy said. These heavy devices rip up everything in their path, disturbing the beds.  Clams and oysters filter approximately 50 gallons of water per day, so without them water quality suffers.

Second, we must allow for the propagation of clams and oysters.  This will preserve our way of life as a waterfront community.

Berger, in a letter to the town board, pointed out that the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources found dredging for shellfish reduces the longevity of the beds. The heavy mechanically-pulled equipment disrupts the replenishment of the shellfish since the dredge results in a higher mortality of other shellfish too small to be harvested, as well as other fauna on the waterway’s floor.

The town board has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, Aug. 6,  at 7 to get input on restructuring of the Commercial Fishing Advisory Council which Cuthbertson said will guide the board on this issue.