The Suffolk County Legislature will hold a public hearing this afternoon, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. on changes to its aquaculture lease program in the Peconic Estuary, which has become the source of contention between recreational boaters and shellfish farmers who have recently built a viable industry out of growing oysters here.
Most notably, the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett filed suit against the county in 2018 over a 10-acre lease in Gardiner’s Bay that was in the same location as their longstanding sailboat racing course. The county agreed to move the lease in a 2019 settlement.
The aquaculture lease program began in 2010, after New York State ceded title to about 110,000 acres of underwater land in Peconic and Gardiner’s bays to the county for use for aquaculture. Of that acreage, 810 acres are currently leased to 58 shellfish farmers, according to the county.
Shellfish including oysters, hard clams and bay scallops may be cultivated on the leases, though oysters have provided the most vigorous local harvest.
The program includes a 60-acre per year cap on new aquaculture leases, which can be rolled over to the next year if not filled, for a total of 600 new acres of leased bay bottom over the next ten years. Each lease parcel would be ten acres.
In the past nine lease cycles, according to the county, the demand for new lease area has always exceeded the supply available under the the 60-acre cap, which is not increasing.
“The level of interest in the Lease Program continues to grow, and the demand for new leases from a diverse pool of applicants remains strong,” said the county in its 10-year revised administration guidance document, which will be the subject of today’s public hearing.
“The next ten years of the Lease Program is expected to increase private investment in shellfish aquaculture businesses,” according to the county. “This, in turn, will expand the marine-based economy of Suffolk County and create jobs that contribute to the quality of life and sense of place in East End communities. The production of large numbers of oysters, hard clams and bay scallops in dense populations on shellfish farms will augment the spawning potential of native shellfish populations. The millions of filter feeding bivalves on shellfish farms will also exert a positive influence on water quality by helping to control nutrient cycling and contributing to the prevention of noxious plankton blooms, such as brown tide. These and other ecosystem services associated with shellfish farms are provided on a sustainable basis at little to no cost to the general public.”
The county is also studying the cultivation of seaweeds such as kelp alongside oysters in the bays, which has the potential to sequester a great deal of carbon from the atmosphere and fight climate change.
Members of the public can comment at the Zoom hearing by signing up at www.scnylegislature.us/publichearing. You can also record a three-minute testimony over the phone by calling 631.853.3685, email comments to Clerk.Legislature@suffolkcountyny.gov or send testimony by mail to the attention of the clerk’s office at the Suffolk County Legislature, P.O. Box 61oo, Hauppauge, NY 11788.