SOUTHOLD, N.Y. - Phones are ringing off the hook at Southold Fish Market as scallop season, which traditionally begins the first week in November, is officially underway. But this year, markets, shuckers, and shoppers are yet again dealing with disappointment. After last year's dramatic die-off, this year is proving to be no better.
"Ten to 15 of my guys didn't even go," said Charlie Manwaring, owner of Southold Fish Market.
And those who do go are barely bringing back a basket compared to bushels in past years.
Alex Deperte relies on the sweet, savory Peconic Bay scallops as a big part of his income, especially this year with COVID-19. He's one of the few giving it a try, hoping restaurants will pay top dollar for whatever he does bring in because the supply is so scarce.
"The outlook is pretty grim," Deperte said. "Seafood sales, in general, have been down and to have another kick in the wrong direction having no scallops has been very frustrating for a lot of people."
According to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, 2018 exceeded 108,000 pounds of scallops. Last year, the die-off saw a loss of more than 90% of the adult scallops. This year is expected to be even worse.
Stephen Tomasetti said that researchers are looking into environmental conditions, predators, and parasites as some of the possible causes of the die-off. In 2019, state environmental officials said a coccidian parasite in the waters was a cause of the mortality event.
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"Another bad year really leaves more questions than answers," Tomasetti said. "If an extreme event low oxygen happens, we can see how it directly impacts that heartbeat rate."
Joyce Novak of the Peconic Estuary Partnership has established a technical advisory committee to try to find solutions including a more resilient scallop.
"To see it be so decimated for two years in a row is a giant wakeup call for climate change and how we deal with putting nutrients in the waters," she said.
Others blame the maritime mystery on Mother Nature.
"When she wants us to have them, we'll get them," Manwaring said.
But until then, everyone will have to wait.