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On the Water: Changing Times

Wed, 12/06/2023 - 17:29
Despite lower catches of bay scallops over the past five years, there are still some to be had in local waters.
Bennett Shellfish

Saturday morning dawned dank, foggy, and chilly. It was a dour start to the day. The temperature hovered around 35 degrees as I peered out of my bedroom window overlooking Shelter Island Sound. At least it wasn’t windy.

Surprisingly, before my eyes was a commercial bayman on the search for the highly prized bay scallop. His was the only boat in sight on the many miles of water before me. Years ago, I would easily see a dozen or so boats on such a day. Not anymore.

The plight of our beloved scallop is a sad one. For five straight years, we have witnessed a summer die-off of nearly 99 percent of the scallops because of a combination of high water temperatures, low levels of dissolved oxygen, and the discovery of a parasite that weakens the bivalves when they spawn in early June. It unfortunately equates to a perfect storm for the humble scallop.

I went out on opening day in early November, and I was able to land my recreational limit of one bushel. It took many hours of back-breaking work with the iron dredges towed from the stern of my boat to reach my goal.

I went out a few days later and could barely scratch out half that amount. That was more than enough to convince me to return my dredges to my basement. My season was quickly over.

Commercial baymen are allowed to retain 10 bushels per person. Nobody has come remotely close to seeing such landings. Still, a few scallops are making their way into our local seafood shops and markets. A piece of advice: Buy them when you see them. They are most certainly worth the price, given their scarcity.

The bayman I saw that morning in back of our house was dredging in an area that I had heavily scoured in previous days. He only stayed for 10 minutes before moving off to the southeast to find greener pastures. I hope he found better luck. Hard work usually pays off. Baymen never have it easy.

The same sad scenario also applies to lobster. Lobster, which thrive in cold water, have become much less common. Lobster landings in Connecticut, for example, have declined dramatically from a high of over 3.7 million pounds in 1998 to less than 100,000 pounds in 2022, an astounding 98 percent drop.

Lobstermen on Long Island who trap in Long Island Sound only landed 82,000 pounds last year. Back in 1998, they landed 3.8 million pounds. Not good numbers by any measure.

I set my own 20 traps in and around Plum Island, and I can certainly confirm that my yearly catches have declined dramatically over the past three decades. Will lobster ever return to their once plentiful status here? Not a chance. And that’s sad.

As for the local fishing scene, as expected for this time of year, it’s rather quiet.

“There are still a few small striped bass being taken off of the ocean beaches,” said Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle in Southampton. “And boats out of Montauk are still catching blackfish and sea bass near Block Island. But the end is near.”

Morse is certainly correct. The season for blackfish closes on Dec. 22, the season for sea bass on Dec. 31. Get them while you can.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift for the fisherman or fisherwoman in your life? Morse is running a holiday sale on just about every item in his shop at 260 Hampton Road.

Capt. Harvey Bennett, the former owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, is still on the hunt for more baseball equipment that he intends to box off to underprivileged children in Cuba.

“I plan to send off my next shipment of equipment in the next few days,” he said. “People have been great in giving the past few weeks. But I hope to ship some more just in time for Christmas.”

Bennett always embraces a true holiday spirit with a big heart. Good man he is. To coordinate a drop-off, he can be reached at 631-324-7770 and at [email protected].

Best wishes, fine catches, and holiday cheers to all.


Fishing tips, observations, and photographs can be sent to [email protected]


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