NY Spends $10M on Shellfish to Improve Long Island Water Quality


New York State is investing $10.4 million in an improved shellfish seeding program that aims to expand clam and oyster seeding and improve water quality off the Long Island coast, officials said.

The majority of that money will provide funding to shellfish hatcheries in Nassau and Suffolk counties that will seed clams and oysters in five strategically located new sanctuary sites where they are most likely to thrive and improve water quality, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday. The rest will be used to obtain the initial 28 million adult shellfish from local distributors and harvesters.

“We’re going to be planting mature shellfish at a rate that will allow reproduction and water filtration,” the governor told reporters during a news conference at the Halesite Fire Department. “The investment will support the entire lifecycle of the shellfish.”

Shellfish naturally filter nitrogen in the water to reduce brown tide, which has been a problem across LI since the 1980s. Brown tides are caused by nitrogen pollution that creates an overabundance of algae, making the water appear brown. Though it is not toxic to the environment, it can deplete the ecosystem by blocking the amount of sunlight that penetrates the water and reducing the amount of oxygen in the water.

The long-term goal is to seed hundreds of millions of shellfish to further reduce pollution and assist the Island’s economy, which relies on the health of local fisheries and waterways.

“New York’s investments in restoring shellfish will help clean Long Island’s waters while creating jobs for local baymen and bringing our coastal heritage back to life,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The five sanctuary sites targeted for the seeding will be in Bellport Bay, Shinnecock Bay and Huntington Harbor as well as Hempstead and South Oyster bays. SUNY Stony Brook and Cornell Cooperative Extension will manage the sites in partnership with local municipalities and volunteers. Up to 179 million locally grown and harvested shellfish will be seeded over the next two years, producing enough shellfish to filter the water at these sites every three days. 

“They spend their first few months in the hatcheries,” Cuomo said. “They’re then placed in floating nurseries… to make them more mature. We’ll have 69 floating nurseries around Long Island… They’ll then be placed thereafter in the open water sites.”

The governor warned that the sanctuaries will be marked with special buoys and poaching will be strictly enforced. To guide the efforts, Cuomo established the Shellfish Restoration Council, which will be co-chaired by SUNY Stony Brook, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Billion Oyster Project. And the DEC will establish a one-stop shop to streamline the permitting processes for shellfish cultivation.

“In order for the Long Island economy to thrive, our residents, communities and environment must thrive,” said Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee. “With today’s announcement, we can ensure coastal communities will remain sustainable for generations of New Yorkers.”