“There was just so many clams,” said Steven Sinacore, a volunteer with the Nature Conservancy. The 53-year-old paid his way through college digging clams from the Great South Bay.
“I remember pulling my tongs up, all I did was close them once and I had half a bushel. It was ridiculous,” said the Sayville resident.
Aside from the thousands of clam diggers raking out the shellfish, industrial dredges were dropped to the bottom of the bay and dragged along the floor. Private companies like the Blue Point Oyster Company scoured bushels of clams by the thousands with large-scale dredges, according to the Working Group.
Reduced clam reproduction and illegal harvesting of clams and seedlings also inhibited clam growth, the report said. It recommended steps to bring back the clams, ranging from forms of pollution cleanup to the control of overfishing.
“People with bay front property were polluting the waters,” Parrucci said. “People were running pool water, kerosene and waste right into the bay.” As documented by the Working Group, human-caused pollution was at one point a problem but is no longer a major factor inhibiting clam growth.
Increased flushing from the breaches in Fire Island has also assisted in natural cleansing of the waters. Only a handful of licensed, part-time clam diggers still dig for profit, compared to the thousands who worked the bay in the 1970s, according to the Working Group.