By Connor Beach
State Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Halesite on Wednesday to announce the details of his $10.4-million Long Island Shellfish Restoration Project that calls for millions of shellfish to be introduced in harbors across Long Island, including Huntington Harbor.
Cuomo acknowledged that being near the water was a major attraction for many Long Island communities, including Huntington, but said fertilizer runoff and inadequate septic systems are polluting the coastal waters with nitrogen and toxic bacteria.
“This is going to be the crisis of the next decade,” Cuomo said.
The $10.4 million plan is the most ambitious natural water filtration program in the country, according to Cuomo. The state has sponsored a large amount of research, in conjunction with Stony Brook University, on the use of clams and oysters as natural filters, Cuomo said.
“The clams and oysters were natural filters,” Cuomo said. “We now have the problem that the water is so polluted that it has actually decimated that population.”
The project will establish five new shellfish sanctuary sites at locations across Long Island that were identified by researchers at Stony Brook and Cornell as both suitable for the sanctuaries and suffering from water pollution problems. Enough shellfish will be introduced to each site to filter the water every three days, according to Cuomo.
Huntington Harbor will see an additional 7.8 million shellfish over the next two years. The other sanctuaries will be established in Bellport Bay, Shinnecock Bay, South Oyster Bay and Hempstead Bay.
The program differs from previous attempts to restore the shellfish populations because mature shellfish will be introduced in the sanctuaries as opposed to past efforts, which introduced juvenile shellfish.
“We are selecting those locations where we believe that we can improve the water quality and where the shellfish can survive and multiply,” Cuomo said. The first crop of 28 million mature shellfish to be placed in the sanctuaries will be purchased from existing hatcheries and distributors across Long Island.
“This is not a place where you should commercially harvest, and any poaching on these sites is a very serious offense,” Cuomo said.
Both state DEC agents and local law enforcement will patrol the sanctuary sites, which will be clearly marked by buoys, according to Cuomo.