As an adult, scallop watching from the vantage of a boat is as thrilling to me as when I was a child. It’s been decades since I did so. The increasing nitrogen loads into the bays with its devastating effects paupers our souls, our palates, our economy, on which the East End so depends.
While seeding clams and scallops back from the brink of destruction has worked to some degree, I view it as precarious at best. The sheer abundance of them that we enjoyed is a painful memory. Prior to Hurricane Gloria, we were visited by a great March nor’easter that just about rivaled Gloria; it made our homes shiver and groan from the blast. The waters pushed up high onto Long Beach leaving in its wake giant piles of scallops entwined in eelgrass, rockweed, sputnik weed. The sheer mass of it all was amazing. Now half the eelgrass beds have vanished, and a great deal of shellfish. Today, a similar storm would wash up precious little. Our shores were a plentiful trove of sun drenched scallop and clam shells, whelks, moon snails, jingle shells, slipper shells, skate and whelk egg cases, calico crabs. Sea vegetation abounded in the flotsam and jetsam. The rubbery rockweed with little bladders that snapped when you squeezed them was a favorite of the kids and grandkids. What’s left along this stretch of beach is mostly the slipper shells with a sparse showing of yellow or orange jingle shells. When I stand in the waters off Long Beach I try to conjure up the schools of minnows that tickled and nipped at our pale legs. Each year their numbers grow less and less. There was a time here in Noyack and in Shelter Island where you could chase swarms of them all day long; hear the excited squeals of children every time they snagged another one into the pail. Today’s children have less natural delights to stir them. Given, areas do fluctuate and some places are better than others in different years, but on the whole, it’s less bountiful.
I’m not one for catching blue claw crabs in a trap. I prefer wading around with a net at the end of a pole. Though I haven’t crabbed in years, I loved crabbing down the road from our house in Polles creek by Short Beach when it still had the bridge with the culvert flowing underneath it. I’d go with my mother, my son and my nephew. We’d wear canvas sneakers that chaffed and squished as we mucked around the creek. We’d bring along an ice chest with a lid to contain our rambunctious catch. At low tide, in tribal effort we’d each stake out parts of the creek. Cat and mouse we walked in the water along the marshy banks poised with pole nets. Though our senses were alert to light, shadow, current, movement, habitat, more than anything we seemed to locate the crabs by some primordial hunting instinct. Closing in cautiously we’d scoop them up in one smooth swift motion. Even when we flubbed and the blue claws were faster in evading the nets, it was still great fun. The nimble blue claws are still fairly plentiful, but for the last few years, with global warming and sea rise, the tide always seem too high at Polle’s Creek for crabbing. Like everything else, we now have to go further for delights that used to be at one’s back door.
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