Islip, NY – The Town of Islip held a site selection lottery to determine which entrepreneurs will be able to farm underwater parcels within a 90 acre area in the Great South Bay. The thirteen available sites stretch from Sexton Island, to Sandy Island, and to Captree Island and range from 1 to 5 acres each. Leasing the bay bottoms aims to restore water quality and the health of the bay, generate Town revenue, and provide new profit opportunities for small business owners. The lottery determined the order in which individuals can claim their preferred acreage and location and, after submitting an approved business plan and securing environmental permitting, will grow and harvest shellfish directly from their parcels.
“These small-business owners are partnering with the Town to help improve the water quality and shellfish population of the Great South Bay, which is the Town’s most precious natural resource,” said Councilman John Cochrane, who has taken the lead on this program. “The Great South Bay is an integral part of the identity of Islip Town, and it is time that we make a concerted effort toward improving our Bay, boosting revenues, and helping the industry.”
Shellfish, such as clams, scallops, and oysters, act as natural filters and thus improve overall water quality in the Bay. Severe over-harvesting and changes in the quality of the bay in recent years have negatively impacted the shellfish population. The program is especially focused on oyster farming, since oysters filter roughly four times as much water as clams, and the market price of oysters can be nearly four times higher than market prices for clams.
“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to both serve as good stewards of this precious natural resource but also generate revenue for a struggling Town,” Supervisor Tom Croci said. “We are pleased to offer Islip’s small business owners and opportunity to thrive in a troubled economy and reinforce the rich traditions of our history in the Bay.”
Doug Winter, the first small business owner who was granted permission from the State DEC to place harvesting equipment on the Town-leased parcel in March 2012. “I know that the oysters that we sell, the oysters that are harvested from the Great South Bay, are the best oysters in the world,” he said to a crowd of potential lease holders. “This project has been incredible for the bay and my business.”
“At the appropriate scale, aquaculture of native shellfish can simultaneously provide new small business opportunities and fresh local sustainably grown seafood in an environmentally compatible way,” said Carl LoBue, Senior Marine Scientist at the Nature Conservancy of Long Island. “We look forward to adding the new shellfish aquaculturists to the long list of Long Island businesses reliant upon the protection and restoration of Great South Bay.”
In addition to reaping the benefits of the improved water quality, the Town of Islip receives payments from the lessees for the bay bottom parcels. The plots are leased at $750 per acre, under five-year agreements between the Town and the lessee. Shellfish seeds may be purchased directly from the Town’s shellfish hatchery in East Islip. In 2012 the hatchery has sold more than $125,000 in seed.
“The fact that this program improves the ecology of the Great South Bay while generating revenue for the Town makes this program a win-win,” said Councilman Cochrane. “We are restoring the health of the Bay while simultaneously helping to restore the financial health of this Town.”