Clam report continues to show decline
The Town of Brookhaven has found less than two to three clams per square meter thus far as part of the Great South Bay shellfish survey, starting in Patchogue Bay and heading west to Bellport Bay. Further west, according to assistant waterways management supervisor Tom Carrano, clams were more depleted, with less than one found per square meter. However, both areas, he said, displayed a lack of young clams to regenerate the clam population, excluding closer to Blue Point, where a small batch of young clams was found, and in Bellport Bay near the inlet.
Brookhaven Division of Environmental Protection’s biannual, eight-day shellfish survey began Tuesday, Aug. 7. On Thursday, Aug. 9. supervisor Ed Romaine and councilmen Mike Loguercio and Neil Foley visited the barge in the Patchogue Bay. On hand were about a dozen staff and volunteers aiding Carrano in his study, dropping the crane twice about every 400 meters. The clams are then washed down and counted.
“Shellfish are a keystone species, meaning they are key to the ecology of the bay,” said Carrano. “Where shellfish live, so do all other animals.”
Upon the demise of the clam, he explained, so, too, came the demise of the flounder and pufferfish. Almost all fish/sea animals at some point in their lifecycle, he continued, rely on clams to feed. Clams are filter feeders, basically herbivores of the sea that eat algae and filter out approximately 35 gallons per day.
Due to the decline, Carrano said he was hired by the town in 1987 to begin the shellfish study. At that time, he and his crew found about 11.6 clams per square meter and took about three weeks to conduct the study.
“In the old days it would take three weeks, but now there’s no reason, because one-third of the bay is not productive,” said Romaine. “So much of the bay is not as productive as it used to be.”
According to Carrano, most of those sites are mud and would only come up with zero clams, rendering a drop useless. Thus, he has identified about 75 of the most productive sites to drop and a few less-than-ideal stations in between for monitoring.
The last time he performed the study, in 2016, he said they found fewer than two clams per square meter, though some areas were better than others.
“This year was a little different,” he said. “As we move west, we are seeing the number of clams picking up,” Carrano said, as of last Thursday. “We assume as we move toward Bellport and the inlet, we will not only see more clams but smaller ones as well, which is hopeful, but not the normal.”
The first five days were spent in Patchogue Bay and the last three in Bellport Bay. Areas of the bay explored earlier in the survey displayed larger chowder clams with few young clams. The survey will wrap up further east in Bellport Bay later today with final numbers.
In an effort to clean the bay and save the shellfish populations, Carrano suggested dealing with the No. 1 source of nitrogen, septic systems. “The new nitrogen systems are key to reducing the amount of nitrogen reaching the bay,” he said.
Once the survey is complete, a working average will be collected and the results of the survey will be announced.
“There are always lessons,” said Romaine. “We do this survey to learn more and figure out what the town can do to better protect the bay.”
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