Around the time Parrucci finished high school, in 1978, the clams began to die out. Today, the South Shore’s seabed is nearly barren. The heyday for clam production was in the 1970s, with peak yields reaching upwards of 675,000 bushels of clams annually. That is an average of 150 clams per bushel depending on the type of clam.
Today, the bay only produces about 13,500 bushels of clams, or about two percent of that peak yield, according to estimates by the Great South Bay Hard Clam Restoration Working Group.
The Working Group, established in 2008 by former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, is a federally-funded governmental body controlling projects to revitalize the clam population today. The Working Group, alongside the privately funded Nature Conservancy, administers research projects in the Great South Bay and uses this information to establish comprehensive tactics to bring back clams.
Shellfish loss is not a new issue, as people from any of the three South Shore townships along the bay could tell you. The decline of the clam population began in 1978 and continued steadily through the 1980s.
In 1987, the Suffolk County Planning Department published “Strategies and Recommendations for Revitalizing the Hard Clam Fisheries in Suffolk County New York.” This extensive document cited chemical factors, like nitrogen pollution in the groundwater that feeds into the bay and the harmful algal tides that are fueled by this nitrogen. The Nature Conservancy is currently working to combat this problem.
However, both The Working Group and The Nature Conservancy agree clam depletion began with the excessive industrial-scale dredging of clams that occurred in the 1970s.
As the clam population rose to extreme levels, both the Blue Point Oyster Company and recreational diggers were able to pull up excessive amounts of clams with ease.