Over 50 members of the island community flocked to the southern edges of Nantucket Harbor early Sunday morning in an attempt to save seed bay scallops that washed ashore from Hurricane Lee over the weekend.
Town Biologist Tara Riley told the Current their hope was to save 50 percent of the scallops. She said this tends to happen every season, but normally closer to November rather than September.
“This has been happening for a long time, but it is becoming more frequent,” Riley said. “This is probably because of a decrease in the eel grass. The eel grass acts as a fence and has a holding capacity to keep scallops in (the water) but we don’t have that anymore. Whenever we get a significant wind event, scallops end up on shore.”
Riley said they noticed this shoreline, as well as the one up in Wauwinet, was loaded with scallop seed about six weeks ago.
“We knew that we needed to address it and move it, but we begin our surveys on Tuesday where we dive this whole area so we were waiting,” Riley said. “They also were too small to move with a conventional dredge. Unfortunately we had an early wind event and they ended up on shore. The good news is that we have a lot of people here. The scallop seeds are clean for the most part and healthy. If we get 50 percent survival that will be great, but we have never had this much seed in the harbor.”
As of now, Riley and Natural Resources Director Jeff Carlson said that there was no estimated number of scallop seed that washed ashore. Riley said this was the smallest seed they have ever rescued.
“I would like to think there is just as much out in the harbor still as there is on the shoreline,” she said.
Members of the Nantucket Shellfish Association and Natural Resources Department assisted with the cleanup. Local fishermen, not just commercial or recreational scallopers, also aided in the rescue. Volunteers ranged from kids as young as six years old to community members in their 70s.
Volunteers loaded up totes with the stranded scallops that were then taken on small boats to local lobsterman Dan Pronk’s larger boat in the harbor to be taken to the northern side of the harbor, Shellfish Association Executive Director Samantha Denette said.
When asked how the community can help improve the health of the harbor's eel grass to prevent situations like this from happening, Denette said that while she understands there is a time and place for fertilizer, seeing landscapers applying fertilizer this past week ahead of the hurricane is something that shouldn’t happen.
“You should never be applying fertilizer when there is rain in the forecast,” she said. “You really shouldn’t be applying fertilizer when there is a hurricane coming with heavy winds and rain. Also, it is September. We are winding down – why do we need fertilizer now? So I think there are some really simple, common-sense things we can do to address this problem.”
She said people need to know that the island’s eelgrass is unhealthy but commended the Nantucket Land and Water Council for their replanting efforts.
“The Nantucket Land and Water Council is doing a fantastic job with their replanting efforts,” Denette said. “As far as proactively adding to the population, they are doing a fantastic job. But what always comes to mind to me is if every homeowner made one change in how they treated their lawn, I think we would see positive effects quickly.”
Riley said if the scallop seed was to stay out all day on Sunday, they likely wouldn’t be in good shape on Monday – leading to the urgency for an early response on Sunday.
“Usually we worry about birds but there is too much seed here for the birds to eat,” Riley said. “(Saturday) was cloudy so I wasn't too worried. The tides were still exaggerated and high, so they were getting submerged every two hours. So that set up for a nice day for us to clean them up today (Sunday). If they stayed here another 24 hours, I'd say it wouldn't be worth it.”
Denette said seeing the different generations come together to save the scallop seed was a positive moment to take away from an otherwise negative situation.
"From the Nantucket Shellfish Association’s perspective, this is the future. We want to make sure that we have a healthy bay scallop fishery for ideally, generations to come,” she said. “Potentially decades to come but ideally generations. It was cool how at one point (Sunday), one of the commercial fishermen brought his son with him. You had some people in their 70s and others who were six years old coming together. It just shows the range of people who care about this in the community.”