Shellfish spawning at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center in Southold. (Photo: CCE Suffolk)

Fun for the whole clam-ily: CCE Suffolk holds annual shellfish spawning event

Whether you’re a dreamer for steamers or prefer haute cuisine on the half shell, it’s hard to downplay the importance of shellfish on Long Island, a $30 million dollar industry, according to the Long Island Oyster Growers Association.

However, pulling mussels from a shell puts a squeeze on the ecology of the region, and overfishing has had a significant impact on wildlife populations.

It’s a tide that is stemmed thanks to efforts by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk Aquaculture Program, which held its Valentine’s Day oyster spawn at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center in Southold on February 14.

“Shellfishing and the aquaculture community are not just an industry; they are woven into the very fabric of life on the North Fork, enriching our history and, to a noteworthy degree, shaping our future,” Town of Southold Supervisor Al Krupski said in a written statement. “We are honored and proud to host CCE Suffolk’s shellfish hatchery, a vital contributor to our community’s sustainability and economic well-being.”

The public event, which has been held annually for over 30 years, kicks off the beginning of the shellfish restoration season. Scientists from the program plant oysters, bay scallops, and hard clams and other species of shellfish in local waterways. In just one year, over 45 million shellfish have been produced.

“I am especially excited to give visitors a chance to get up close and personal with the process of how we spawn shellfish in our hatchery,” Chris Pickerell, director of the Marine Program at CCE Suffolk, said in the statement. “It truly is an amazing experience that is nothing short of miraculous the first time you witness it.”

The event is made possible through a partnership with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “The DEC recognizes the important partnership and valuable role that Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Program plays in conserving, enhancing and restoring New York’s commercially and recreationally important natural resources, habitats and environment,” Martin L. Gary, director of the Division of Marine Resources at DEC, said in the statement.

CCE Suffolk also offers a community-based program that allows locals to get involved with raising oysters. The Suffolk Project in Aquaculture Training provides intensive shellfish aquaculture training through monthly workshops, allowing anyone to participate in the shellfish restoration effort on Long Island by giving participants oyster seeds and allowing them to raise their own oysters at the SCMELC facility in Southold.

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