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Shellfish Restoration on Long Island


Shellfish on NBC New York

Bill Ulfelder and Alimot Yusuff discussed New York's shellfish populations recently on NBC New York.

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If you enjoy clams on the half shell or a good cup of clam chowder on a cool autumn day, your taste buds may be happy for years to come—thanks to the work of the Great South Bay Hard Clam Restoration Working Group whose members recently helped enact laws to keep the clam population sustainable and thriving for the first time in the history of Great South Bay.

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The Best Way to Protect Clams

The group, spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, along with Suffolk County and Great South Bay towns of Babylon, Brookhaven, and Islip, and others helped put into place a 21st century approach to the management of clam harvests. The formula is simple: when clams are abundant, they can be harvested more heavily. When clam populations are scarce, fewer clams can be legally taken.

“The best way to protect the traditions of clamming as an industry or as a recreational pursuit on Long Island is to make sure that the resource is thriving. Recovering clams is essential. These new regulations are meant to assure that the hard clam fishery is sustainable and consistent with the long-term focus on restoration,” explains Nate Woiwode, coastal and marine policy advisor for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “Prior to these changes, there were no limits on the number of clammers or on the amount of clams that could be taken. Not surprisingly, a clamming boom in the mid-70’s was followed by a catastrophic collapse in the clam population—a disaster which has direct
linkages to many of the environmental challenges still facing the Great South Bay today.”

Our Approach to Clam Restoration

In the 1970’s more than half of the clams eaten in the entire country were from Great South Bay. When clams were abundant, they also filtered 40% of the water in the bay every single day. Today, there are only enough hard clams to filter about 1% of this vast body of water daily. Without shellfish, water quality declines — and creatures that depend on clams,scallops, and oysters as food sources (including humans!) also suffer.

Since 2004, The Nature Conservancy has been working to restore Great South Bay’s clam population in a three-pronged approach:

  • stocking the bay with reproductive adult clams,
  • helping to enact laws to protect the existing clam population,
  • and working with partners to restore degraded water quality.

“The new approach strikes a balance of respecting the interests of families traditionally engaged in commercial and recreational shellfishing, while giving the three Great South Bay towns the tools they need to collaboratively work to rebuild and sustainably manage the hard clam resource moving forward in a fair and transparent way,” said Carl
LoBue, senior marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “What the new limits mean is that when clams become abundant again, they won’t be over-harvested
as they were in the 70’s and 80’s. Instead, as clams become more abundant over time, the towns can relax regulations by allowing more clams to be harvested.” We can all raise a cup—or bowl—of clam chowder to that.

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