A plan for the future of the bay


Last in a series of four columns by Friends of the Bay.

In three previous columns, I detailed why we believe Oyster Bay is at, or possibly has passed, the verge of ecological collapse, and how we got to this point. While Friends of the Bay has offered a dire picture of the potential future of our harbor, we also have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reverse some of the damage done over past generations. This fall, we will finally have an opportunity to put in place a shellfish management plan that will make the health of the bay the highest priority while ensuring the future of the shellfishing industry.

The expiration of Frank M. Flower and Sons’ lease in September will free up nearly 2,000 acres of bottomland. This will allow the Town of Oyster Bay to set aside significant portions of the bay as sanctuaries, while still substantially increasing the acreage available for commercial shellfishing in areas of the bay certified for harvesting.

Since the closing of Flower’s Mill Neck Creek hatchery in 2019, Friends of the Bay has been working closely with the town to develop a plan for the restoration and management of the shellfish population and the ecosystem that depends on it. The town has been very receptive to our suggestions. It is clear that officials understand what is at stake and the urgency of the problem.

The centerpiece of this plan is the establishment of sanctuary areas, in both certified and uncertified waters, that will be set aside and protected from harvesting in perpetuity. These shellfish sanctuary areas would be restored and allowed to grow into mature, intact ecosystems and provide water filtration, reef habitat, a food source for fish and wildlife, and the reproductive ability to seed and populate the rest of the bay and beyond. They would provide for sustainable commercial harvesting in other areas of the bay for decades to come.

Friends of the Bay and the town have already enlisted the help of multiple organizations and individuals, including the Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee, Adelphi University, Stony Brook University, the Nature Conservancy, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee and the hundreds of “oyster gardeners” who have already raised nearly three quarters of a million oysters.

These entities would identify the best areas for restoration, restore the bottomlands with crushed shell, provide shellfish seed, grow them to increase their chances of survival, plant them, and monitor them for survival and growth. The town, among other things, has received grants and drafted an amendment to town code to allow for the creation of sanctuary areas, and is planning the construction of a large-scale shellfish hatchery to provide seed.

While we are assembling impressive resources, the one resource that we are short on is time. The long decline of our bay has greatly accelerated in the past several years, and pulling it back from the brink is getting more difficult with each passing day. It is critical that we begin the healing process at the earliest possible moment when the Flower lease expires.

Friends of the Bay believes that, if fully implemented, this plan has the potential to transform these waters from nearly barren bottomlands to a complete ecosystem teeming with life. That’s how a National Wildlife Sanctuary is supposed to be.

Success will not be easy and it will not be quick, but the alternative will also be difficult — and permanent.

Bill Bleyer is president of Friends of the Bay. His previous columns can be found at