Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Hatchery Last Year Raised More Than 45 Million Clams, Oysters And Scallops.

Valentine’s Day marks the beginning of the shellfish restoration season for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE Suffolk) Aquaculture Program. Every year the season is kicked off with an oyster spawn at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center (SCMELC) in Southold, NY.


For more than 30 years, scientists at CCE Suffolk have been producing shellfish at SCMELC for planting in local waters. In 2018, a nearly 4,000 square foot production hatchery was added to the site which has resulting in over 125 million shellfish produced since 2021 including oysters, bay scallops, and hard clams.


According to the Long Island Oyster Growers Association the shellfish industry on Long Island accounts for approximately $30 million dollars annually in the region.


Work with shellfish at SCMELC began in the early 1990’s when a shellfish hatchery was established here to support reseeding efforts in local towns including Southold, Southampton, and Shelter Island. Since that time, CCE Suffolk has worked with these towns to seed clams, oysters, and scallops in local waters to improve water quality and help support recreational and commercial shellfishing.


The Valentine’s Day “Spawning Season Kick-Off” event is an opportunity to celebrate CCE Suffolk’s work with shellfish and brings together local officials, stakeholders, and volunteers, to witness this important work so essential to the local economy and environment alike.


“The shellfish industry is an important part of the Long Island economy, and past experience has proven that aquaculture research plays a significant role in supporting the industry,” said Vanessa Lockel, Executive Director of CCE Suffolk. “Cornell Cooperative Extension takes pride in the work of our dedicated team of scientists for their commitment to this important aspect of the ecology of Long Island.”


Each year, the “Spawning Season Kick-Off” event provides participants with a unique opportunity to see and explore operations at the CCE Suffolk’s production hatchery. Attendees will witness how a small tank of several dozen adult oysters, conditioned for spawning over many weeks can result in millions of oyster larvae in only a matter of hours. In addition to the oysters, this year’s participants will learn more about CCE Suffolk’s work with bay scallops and recent advances in the field of kelp aquaculture.


“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. It truly is an amazing experience that is nothing short of miraculous the first time you witness it.” said Chris Pickerell, Director of the Marine Program at CCE Suffolk. “While this is something we do every year and numerous times throughout the year, I believe it is important for our stakeholders to have a better understanding how much work and training goes into making this possible.”


“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,” said Town of Southold Supervisor Al Krupski. “The location and function of the lab highlight the importance of maintaining water quality efforts. 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 Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center is an excellent illustration of the ways that research can be leveraged to help build regional economies,” said Jessica Henesy, Economic Development Specialist with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. “Their specialized expertise in shellfish science benefits all of Long Island, both in economic terms and helping to sustain a treasured way of life for the region.” 


“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (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,” said Martin L. Gary, Director of the Division of Marine Resources at DEC. “Cornell Cooperative Extension plays a major role in delivering educational and community stewardship programs to improve water quality, habitat, and shellfish populations in coastal waters. They provide extension support to commercial fisheries and aquaculture. By helping to protect and restore sustainable shellfish populations and promote healthy ecosystems, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center is providing measurable positive benefits to Long Island’s water quality, coastal resiliency, natural resources, coastal habitats, and maritime traditions.”


In addition to supporting wild harvest and the oyster farming industry, CCE Suffolk runs a robust community-based program similar to the Master Gardeners Program that allows local individuals and families to get involved with raising oysters. The Suffolk Project in Aquaculture Training (SPAT) provides intensive shellfish aquaculture training while also fostering a strong sense of stewardship for the local marine environment. Volunteers raise oysters for their own consumption at the lab and other sites throughout the county and, as a result, are more likely to think about what they do on land that might affect water quality.


SPAT participants are provided with oyster seeds and monthly workshops where they learn to start their own shellfish gardens. They are free to grow their oysters at the Southold facility, at one of the three CCE Suffolk Aquaculture Program annexes across the county, or off their own docks after gaining approval for a special license. The oysters are grown in containment, away from predators, until they reach an adult size.


In May 2023, a study conducted by the HR&A economic development advisory firm concluded that Long Island would benefit greatly by intensified investment in its “blue economy” sectors, encompassing aquaculture, marine research, marine construction, maritime transportation, offshore wind, and tourism and recreation. Those sectors were sustaining 67,700 regional jobs in 2021, a figure that has the potential to grow to 127,800 jobs by 2051. The study also found that, by that year, those sectors could potentially be delivering $41 billion in economic output and more than $2.6 billion in tax revenue.


About Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

Established in 1917, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE Suffolk) is a non-profit community education agency that works to preserve the county’s agricultural resources, marine life, protect our eco-systems, support families, provide community service opportunities for youth, and advance research-based education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).


Affiliated with Cornell University as part of the national land grant university system, CCE Suffolk’s staff consists of educators, researchers, specialists, and support personnel who are dedicated to making Suffolk County a desirable place to live and work.


CCE Suffolk is a subordinate governmental agency with an educational mission that operates under an organizational model approved by Cornell University as agent for the State of New York.



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