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Long Island Sound Shellfish: A Backgrounder

By Rupert Deedes

A combination of habitat management and shellfish aquaculture has contributed to an increase in the harvest of oysters, clams, and scallops in Long Island Sound.

From 2000 to 2010, the hard clam harvest more than tripled in Connecticut. Part of this trend was due the to the fact that some lobster fishermen had turned to clamming as a result of the Long Island Sound 1998-1999 lobster die-off.

Other factors driving the increase, include increased aquaculture production, and the reopening of shellfish beds in outer North Hempstead Harbor after a successful effort by local, state, and federal authorities to improve water quality.

The increase in oyster harvesting was a welcome development after a relative decline after 2012, when large commercial oystering suffered as a result of the spreading of MSX, a parasitic disease.

The rebound of oyster harvesting began in 2006. In Connecticut, this was due in part to efforts to restore and protect oyster habitats.

In New York, where, from 2012 to 2014, oyster harvest increased by more than 370 percent, it was due, in part, to increased aquaculture production. There were also increased harvests by Baymen in Huntington-Northport Bays, and Western Long Island Sound.

Since 2014-2015, there has been a decrease in oyster harvest due to a major hatchery - Frank Flower & Sons - halting their seeding process, an outbreak of vibrio, and an increase of wild oysters being sold for less. Although Flower has stopped seeding oysters into the Bay, the Town of Oyster Bay has opened its own oyster hatchery and is now seeding millions of baby oysters into the Bay.

Experts note that the annual harvest numbers for oysters, clams, and scallops are an indicator of both abundance, as well as the socioeconomic importance of these species to communities around Long Island Sound.

Harvesting is only allowed in approved waters, so harvesting is also an indirect reflection of water quality in the near-shore environment. This is particularly true in Connecticut where shellfishers can only harvest on their own leased beds.

Over the last three years, there has been a growing recognition of the filter-feeding capacity of shellfish to help keep near-shore waters clean by controlling phytoplankton abundance in the water. An adult clam or oyster filters 25 gallons of water each day.


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