On March 11, 2019 on Long Island, New York, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (whose restorative and revitalizing agendas have been featured several times before here in REVITALIZATION, such as here and here) announced a pilot program designed to help revitalize the local oyster industry, which was historically a huge portion of the local economy. That makes this effort a combination of economic revitalization and heritage restoration.
But it’s actually a 3-way “re” story, in that it’s also a form of environmental restoration. As long-time readers of REVITALIZATION already know, shellfish farming is inherently restorative. Unlike highly-polluting finfish farms (like salmon) which have to be fed vast quantities of wild fish, oysters, mussels and the like feed by cleaning the water. Every harvest leaves the area cleaner and healthier.
Oyster populations help waterways by eating algae, filtering out particulates and excess nutrients and creating habitat for other organisms to thrive. Each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each day and according to the Long Island Oyster Growers Association, Long Island oysters filter approximately 900 million gallons of water every single day. Overall, shellfish farms exert a positive influence on water quality.
“Shellfish farming has been an important part of Long Island’s heritage for decades and plays an important role in cleaning our waterways and promoting economic activity,” said Bellone. “The introduction of this legislation will go a long way in removing barriers that have made it difficult for our farmers to sell and market their locally sourced products.”
This new effort will assist local oyster farmers and stimulate the industry by allowing shellfish vendors to expand their current retail opportunities. The County Executive will be introducing legislation to implement an Annual Temporary Event Permit for vendors of shellfish grown or harvested in Long Island waters, which will include no fees for the first two years. In addition, the County Executive announced a one-page resource guide to provide an overview of the industry and its history.
Suffolk County efforts build on those underway statewide by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to improve water quality and restore our marine ecosystems. Last May—as reported here in REVITALIZATION—Governor Cuomo deployed the first installation of recycled materials from the former Tappan Zee Bridge in an effort to significantly expand New York’s network of artificial reefs. This critical step will help to ensuring the health and economic well-being of our region.
“Long Island’s farmers and aquaculture producers are grateful for this economic incentive proposal put forth by County Executive Bellone to help us market and sell our products direct to consumers. By reducing the red tape and costs associated with these permits, it will ensure that our growers have the ability to sell and market their product and expand their market opportunities. Shellfish are a great environmental benefit to our waters and by allowing our farmers and bay people to be successful will keep jobs, increase sales tax revenue, and continue all the associated environmental benefits the industry does for Long Island residents and our waters,” said Rob Carpenter, Administrative Director, Long Island Farm Bureau.
Under current regulations, for a Long Islander Shellfish Farmer to be able to market and sell their products to a consumer, they are required to apply for a Vendors Temporary Food Service Permit with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. These permits require a $95 fee and are valid for a single event at a fixed location, with a 14 day limit. This impedes shellfish farmers from partaking in weekly and monthly reoccurring events such as farmers markets and fairs under a single permit, severely limiting and hampering the ability of farmers to market and sell their products. Local markets, fairs, vineyards, breweries, and cideries offer a valuable opportunity for oyster farmers to sell their products directly to consumers competing in a competitive business.
If approved by the Legislature, the new legislation would create a Shellfish Annual Temporary Event Permit for vendors of shellfish grown or harvested in Long Island waters that would be valid for one year at temporary events approved by the Department of Health Services. As part of the pilot program, there will be no fee for the Shellfish Annual Temporary Event Permit for the first 2 years.
“Oysters and oyster farming have historically been a critical component of the economy and culture of Long Island, and provide essential environmental protections by filtering out nutrients that cause red tide. The industry is making a strong comeback. This legislation will allow the local seafood industry more opportunity to showcase their products while reducing operating costs. I’m pleased that County Executive Bellone has proposed this exciting new pilot program, and I am glad to partner in this important work,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming.
Long Island has a rich heritage in oyster farming, and Suffolk County has undertaken a number of actions to protect this vital industry, which helps sustain the County’s economic growth by generating tourism dollars, supporting local restaurants and service industries, and providing fresh produce for residents.
“I want to thank County Executive and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services for working to come up with a plan to cut through the red tape to help small businesses and the shellfish industry,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, whose district includes many shellfish growers and harvesters.
These efforts include the implementation of an Aquaculture Lease Program to provide secure access to marine space for private and commercial shellfish aquaculture in publicly-owned underwater lands in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay for the purpose of shellfish cultivation. The Lease Program was first adopted in 2009 and implementation of the program began in 2010, with the goal being to address the access needs of existing shellfish aquaculture businesses, while also accommodating growth in the industry.
“The Shellfish industry has always been important part of Long Island’s history and identity. Its subsequent decline was devastating to so many families who had been doing this work for generations. Suffolk County has made tremendous investment into revitalizing the Shellfish Industry and we are seeing the result of that effort,” said Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco. “I applaud County Executive Bellone for his proposal to streamline the permitting process for vendors who are using locally grown shellfish. We need to do anything we can to encourage the growth of the shellfish industry and restore this part of our shared history.”
The program is currently undergoing a 10 year review to reevaluate the various components of the program, including the number of leases that can be issued annually. As part of the review of the program, the County is engaging and encouraging the various bay user stakeholders to get involved. According the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, for the five-year period 2012-2017, the total economic output to the Long Island economy of the Lease Program is estimated to be $13 million. The program has issued leases to 55 new businesses in Peconic and Gardiner’s Bay.
“The County’s aquaculture industry is vital not only to our Island’s history but to our economy as well. This industry generates millions of dollars in revenue, supports our local restaurants and provides our residents with world-class locally grown products,” said Legislator Bill Lindsay, Chairman of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Economic Development Committee. “I want to thank County Executive Bellone for his efforts to remove red tape and make it easier for our local oyster farmers to expand their businesses.”
Last year, County Executive Bellone also announced the launch of ChooseLI.org, a collaborative effort that seeks to raise awareness, advocate and inspire the community to support local and independent businesses on Long Island. The Choose LI website includes a complete mapping and inventory of all the farmstands, farmers’ markets, fish markets, vineyards, breweries, and cideries in Suffolk County for residents. Additionally, the website provides residents with information on what types of products are available during the season.
All photos courtesy of Suffolk County. In the featured photo, Steve Bellone is in the center, holding the sign.