Approximately 125,000 Eastern oysters were released into Northport Harbor this past Wednesday, August 24, part of a program run by Cornell Cooperative Extension and headed by Marine Resource Specialist Barry Udelson. This is the program’s second year of oyster deployment, an effort to filter the water and reduce nitrogen in the bay.
The single set oysters were cultured at Cornell Cooperative’s Southold hatchery this spring and then transported to the FLUPSY (Floating Upweller System) dock at the Woodbine Marina in Northport Village. The floats provide a constant heavy flow of water over the shellfish, allowing them to feed and grow at a much faster rate than if they were sitting at the bottom of the harbor.
A mature oyster, which is about three inches in size, can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Last year, the local FLUPSY program added 100,000 oysters into the harbor, and this year another 125,000. And good news, according to Mr. Udelson, who scuba dived in the area in mind-August: the oysters dropped last year are doing well. “They were the size of my hand, I’ve never seen anything like it, just piles [of oysters] in a big band,” he told the Journal as he prepared large buckets of oysters at the Woodbine dock Wednesday morning. Last year’s batch definitely spawned, too, Mr. Udelson said.
This year’s drop went to the same three spots in the harbor and filled spaces in between. Local bayman Brian Bernier accompanied Mr. Udelson, FLUPSY on-site supervisor Sean Tamaro, Northport Village Trustee Dave Weber and Northport Village Mayor Donna Koch on the boat to release the oysters. Mr. Bernier used a hollow, aluminum pole to test the ground before the oysters were released to ensure there was a firm substrate. Then they “ground truthed” the area while scuba diving, Barry explained.
Trustee and Commissioner of Docks and Waterways Dave Weber is excited that the seeds planted last September are thriving in Northport Bay. This proves that within five to 10 years of this project, there will be a natural return of oysters to harvest in our waters, “helping both the environment and local baymen,” Trustee Weber told the Journal.
In addition to growing single set oysters at the FLUPSY, Cornell Cooperative Extension added smaller batches of ribbed mussel and spat on shell oysters this year. The ribbed mussel will be tested for potential use as animal food. It may be another organism that can be cultured and raised, like kelp, to not only be useful in the water as a natural filter, but feed animals, too. This connects the industries, Mr. Udelson said, and creates a useful cycle.
Like the Eastern oysters, the spat on shell (which are clusters of five to ten oysters in one) are raised from seed and deployed into our local harbors. However, they aren’t poachable, so they’ll continue to sit in the waters and do their work by reducing nitrogen.
The local FLUPSY program is part of a larger initiative by Cornell Cooperative Extension to restore Long Island shellfish in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Northport site supervisor Sean Tamaro worked with interns Kaitlin Zenyuh, a senior at Northport High School, and Logan Carbone, a sophomore at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, three mornings a week for the last six weeks at the dock, in order to prepare the oysters for release.