By Wilko Martínez-Cachero and Quari Alleyne
Oyster Bay reseeded its harbor with one million shellfish seedlings on September 14, while Brookhaven has partnered up with Seatuck Environmental Association and five Long Island restaurants in an oyster shell recycling program to curb Long Island’s shellfish depletion.
The Oyster Bay Harbor is reseeded with oysters for free every year through the town’s floating upweller system (FLUPSY) and lease agreements with local corporations, councilwoman Michele Johnson and public information officer Brian Nevin said.
“These initiatives help keep our waters clean, bolster the local economy, and improve the resiliency of our coastal communities by restoring shellfish populations to the harbor,” Johnson said.
Oyster Bay plans to open its own shellfish hatchery towards the end of the year, which will allow the town to continue to place shellfish into its waters. The town is also working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Cornell Cooperative Extension to plant five million clam seeds in the Great South Bay.
“The Great South Bay once boasted a wealth of shellfish, but is now practically devoid,” Johnson said. “I am proud to work with my colleagues to take these important steps to help our environment.”
Shellfish, including oysters, help keep the water clean due to their filtering capabilities. They consume algae and remove excess nitrogen from the water, which prevents a habitat starved of oxygen that leads to the death of marine life. Additionally, shellfish stabilize shorelines and hinder harmful algae, such as rust tide, from growing.
Like Oyster Bay, the Town of Brookhaven is also attempting to boost the number of shellfish on the island. Catch Oyster Bar in Patchogue, The Snapper Inn in Oakdale, Tellers: An American Chophouse in Islip, H2O Seafood & Sushi in East Islip, and Prime in Huntington are all working with the town and Seatuck in an oyster-recycling program.
The latter three are owned by Kurt Bohlsen and his company Bohlsen Restaurant Group (BRG). Bohlsen, a Long Island native, says his reasons for partnering with Seatuck exceed his own business interests.
“Our local bodies of water are very important for our ecology and our environment, so I’m certainly a big supporter of anything that helps that,” he said.
The oyster shell recycling process, which can take years, starts with Seatuck providing restaurants with buckets. Once the oysters are shucked, their shells are dumped into the buckets and picked up by Seatuck once a week.
“It makes a lot of sense,” James McDevitt, Prime executive chef, said. “Recycling oysters is easy for us.”
Prime fills five or six buckets of oyster shells a week, according to general manager Pat Foley. Seatuck then takes the buckets to Brookhaven’s recycling facility and places them outdoors for up to one year to wash out any contaminants such as olive oil and salt. Afterwards, the shells are deposited on top of a hard surface in designated oyster bed areas.
Being placed on a hard surface is essential. Long Island’s shellfish population has diminished, in part, due to the scarcity of hard surfaces for oysters to be planted on. When oysters reproduce, their fertilized egg floats until it latches onto something solid.
Restaurants participating in this initiative see their contribution increase during the summer.
“In the summertime, we’re going through a thousand to 1200 [oysters] throughout the week,” James Orlandi, Prime corporate chef, said.