As scallop season winds to a close on the last day of March, baymen and purveyors of scallops are taking stock in a season that saw fewer scallops and more iced-over bays than recent years.
Out east on the South Fork, where Napeague Harbor provided some of the best scalloping grounds in the 2012-13 season, this year couldn’t help but be a disappointment after last.
“It was not as good as last year, but not as dire as predicted,” said Charlotte Sasso, who, with her husband Bruce, owns Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett. “During the dead dead part of winter, we had awful weather, and it was indeed hard to get them. If there’s a blizzard or the bay is iced over, you can’t get out. This past month, the guys in Montauk and Napeague had enough to keep us going. We did get some from the Cape.”
“Last year was great for Napeague, but over the past five years, the trend is 50/50,” she added. “You’ll have a couple good years, then a couple off years.”
After the scallop fishery collapsed in the mid-1980s with the influx of the brown tide, the East End faced many years in which scalloping didn’t last long after opening day, the first Monday in November. Though baymen have been able to find scallops through the season in the past several seasons, Ms. Sasso said there’s another reason scalloping doesn’t have the allure in March that it does in November.
“The demand dies off,” she said. “When they first open the demand is so crazy, everyone’s rushing in, but the bloom is off the rose after the holidays. Now it’s springtime and on to other things. People are now asking when the bluefish are coming.”
Al Daniels of North Haven has been scalloping most of his life, and he said most commercial baymen he knows managed to scallop all winter this year.
“Obviously, it wasn’t as good as the year before, but it was better than before that,” he said. “The last time I was out was after Christmas. It was slow going, and you had to work all day for a couple bushels.
Mr. Daniels said he’s seen a lot of “bugs,” or baby scallops, in the water this year, which will be harvestable size next year, if they make it through the summer. Many scientists believe algae blooms, fed by warm, nitrogen-enriched water in the bays the past few years, may have harmed the scallop population.
“Maybe the cold winter will keep the problem down,” he said. “Rust tide, mahogany tide, you can call it [the algae blooms] whatever color you want. It’s still garbage.”
Kenny Clark on Shelter Island depends on scallops to make a living in the winter. In the summer he fishes for conch and sets pound traps. He said this past season was just okay.
“It was not what we expected,” he said. “It shoulda been very good, but it wasn’t. A lot of scallops died. Last year, we’d seen the juveniles, but they were not there when the season opened.”
Mr. Clark said he found scalloping best off the coast of Sag Harbor and in Orient this year.
This season, the normally lush scalloping grounds off the west side of Robins Island didn’t hold much promise either. Baymen spent the first few days of the season combing the waters there, before moving on to more fertile ground.
Mr. Clark, 53, has been scalloping since he was a little kid, and he’s seen all kinds of conditions.
“I lost quite a lot of time to ice this winter,” he said. “There’s been kind of bad weather, and that made a difference.”
The silver lining to the slow season, he said, has been the going price when scallops are in such short supply. Throughout the season, he said, he was bringing in $16 to $18 per pound wholesale.
“I don’t have any other income,” he said. “But the price was higher, so it was ok.”