The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has just announced new emergency regulations that will close 1,844 acres of bays and harbors to shellfishing in Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip, Smithtown, Riverhead, Southampton, Southold, East Hampton and Oyster Bay.
These restrictions are due to elevated levels of fecal coliform in the water surrounding the shellfish beds, which can lead to illness in people who ingest the shellfish.
This issue is seperate from, though its cause may be related to, the ongoing issue with elevated nitrogen level in Long Island’s bays, which is due in large part to the breakdown of nitrogen from urine in failing septic systems.
States are required, through the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, to conduct regular water quality sampling in shellfish harvesting areas, and if states fail to comply with these national water quality monitoring protocols the federal government could prohibit the interstate sale of the shellfish.
The closures include year-round decertification of 72 acres along the Long Island Sound in the towns of Brookhaven and Riverhead; 65 acres of the Great Peconic Bay in Southold and Riverhead towns and 20 acres in Accabonac Harbor in Springs.
Sixty acres in Heady Creek in Shinnecock Bay were designated as “seasonally uncertified,” and will be closed to shellfishing from May 1 to Nov. 30.
The DEC, in a press release Oct. 22, said their “staff will continue to evaluate sources of the bacteria contamination in an effort to resolve the issue.”
“Bacteria can enter the waters from a variety of human, animal, cesspool and storm water sources,” they added. “DEC continues to work with the local governments in Nassau and Suffolk counties on major projects to improve water quality in the region, an effort that will reduce discharges of bacteria and nitrogen. DEC is also partnering with local leaders and stakeholders on the development of a “Nitrogen Action Plan” for Long Island. DEC will work with partners to track down the bacteria sources and oversee mandated local efforts to address illicit discharges of sewage into storm sewer systems.”
The emergency regulations are effective immediately and will be published in the Nov. 4 edition of the New York State Register. Text descriptions and maps are available on the DEC’s website or by contacting the DEC’s Shellfisheries office at 631.444.0492.