The East Hampton Star’s Editorial – A Stark Warning

Regarding the cancellation of the annual Trustee’s Largest Clam Contest-


October 5, 2023

For what we think is the first time in a third of a century, the East Hampton Town Trustees Largest Clam Contest has been canceled on account of the weather. The decision came after the annual event had already been put off for two weeks amid a heavy rainfall. Then, after even heavier rain on Friday that prompted state officials to close all but one of the contest waterbodies, the trustees pulled the plug for this year. Immediately, there were those who attributed this turn of events to climate change.

Scientists and government agencies have warned that yearly precipitation could increase by as much as 15 percent over the next 12 years in Northeast coastal regions like ours. More rain and snow make for more runoff into East End bays and harbors. Runoff and groundwater leaching are two of the most significant contributors to degraded water quality. In basic terms, temperature is the cause: Warmer air can hold more water, leading to more rainfall. Because the climate is heating not just in the air but in our waterways as well, stresses on marine species multiply. The risk of toxic bacteria and harmful algae blooms also rises.

Already, it is clear that all is not right. Once a commercial-fishing mainstay, dredging for bay scallops has mostly become not worth it. Shellfish hatcheries produce seed clams and oysters for populations that might not be able to sustain themselves without human help. Once-familiar inshore species, such as skimmer clams, have all but disappeared. Anecdotally, recreational anglers tell us that the fishing has been terrible in Gardiner’s Bay and the Peconics for more than a decade.

Regarding shellfish, to err on the safe side, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation temporarily prohibits harvesting generally after three inches of rainfall is recorded in a short period of time. The D.E.C. says that the collected results of sampling during previous emergency closures guide its officials in determining when shellfish grounds can be reopened, generally after about five days without significant precipitation, depending on testing. Getting the word out to all would-be clammers, for example, is difficult, so the D.E.C. suggests that harvesters pay attention to weather forecasts that predict unusually heavy rainfall, especially from thunderstorms, tropical systems, or northeasters.

There is a poignancy to the clam contest being postponed for a year. The town trustees are stewards of most of East Hampton’s enclosed waterbodies, but they have little to no power to regulate what happens on land. That responsibility is held by the state, county, and town and village boards.

With more rain in the long-term forecast, toxic trouble in our bays and harbors is not going to go away on its own. It will take a concerted effort by all involved — and a public that demands action on land and in the water.

Website by Michael Hansen