New plan could open up Oyster Bay shellfishing to more companies

Several companies and individuals could harvest shellfish in parts of Oyster Bay harbor — where a single company has held exclusive rights for decades — under a new solicitation.

The town leases about 1,400 acres of underwater land to commercial shell fishing company Frank M. Flower & Sons but that 30-year lease expires in 2024. The town last week issued a new request for proposals to license 800 acres of underwater land that are divided into six separate areas that could be fished separately. Proposals can be for as few as 10 acres and as many as 700 acres.

“It really was the desire to open it up to as many prospective, qualified firms as possible,” Oyster Bay deputy commissioner of environmental resources George Baptista said in an interview. Baptista said the town reached out to 50 firms on the East Coast to gauge their interest.

“We are trying to drive competition,” Baptista said, noting that the town board could still select a single company for 700 acres.

Other differences in the licensing agreements are that they would be shorter — spanning five years with an option to extend for another five years — and require seeding each acre with 1,500 oysters or clams every year.

Three spots where shellfish spawn will be off limits to fishing beginning in 2024.

“We’re hoping to develop a self-sustaining, a standing stock of natural clams there that will help ensure the health of the bay,” Baptista said of the spawning areas.

Flower’s attorney James Cammarata said more time was needed to review the RFP and declined to comment further.

Independent baymen criticized the plan. In a June 10 letter, the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association asked the town not to release the RFP, calling for environmental reviews to be completed.

“It [the RFP] doesn’t deal with the issue of hydraulic dredging which we think is really most appropriately dealt with by the town,” Robert Wemyss, treasurer for the association said in an interview.

The baymen have long alleged that Flower’s practice of hydraulic dredging to harvest oysters damages the shellfishing beds in the harbor. Flower has said their practices are safe.

Researchers from Stony Brook University began a study of the practice in the harbor this year.

Wemyss said the baymen also worry that the RFP could continue to allow domination of the industry by a big player or players at the expense of smaller operators.

“You’re going to have one or perhaps several sort of monopoly owners of large tracts” of shellfish beds, Wemyss said.

Friends of the Bay, a nonprofit organization that advocates for protecting Oyster Bay harbor, said the town was receptive to its suggestions in crafting the RFP.

“We like the fact that the number of acres available for commercial harvesting has been greatly reduced and that Mill Neck Creek is not included, as it has served as a productive spawning area,” Barry Lamb, chairman of the organization’s conservation committee, said in an email. “This will also leave more underwater lands available to the public.”

Lamb said the organization would like to see the town consider “new innovative approaches to shellfish aquaculture that may prove more sustainable environmentally.”

Oyster Bay Harbor shellfishing license proposal

  • 800 acres available
  • Proposals accepted for 10 to 700 acres
  • Operators required to seed 1,500 oysters or clams per acre per year
  • License for five years with option to renew for five more years

Source: Town of Oyster Bay request for proposals