Our shellfishing industry has been impacted over the last 40+ years by detrimental changes to the health of our marine ecosystem, and we've seen declining populations of shellfish and various finfish over the years. However, in 1992, the Trust was fortunate to be given an opportunity to proactively help local efforts to improve the health of our shellfish populations when we began work with the Plock family, owners of the former Shelter Island Oyster Company, and re-established a thriving mariculture facility in Southold.
Owned by John and Anna Plock and John Plock, Jr., Trust staff worked with the Plock family to create a limited development plan for their 21.8-acre property on Southold Bay. The property, with several lagoons, a Quonset hut, an underground shellfish bunker, and other structures used for the operation of a mariculture facility, had fallen into disrepair after the family ceased operations in the late 1970s. The Trust worked with the family to create a plan that ultimately protected 14 of the property's nearly 22 acres, including the unique mariculture facilities of the Shelter Island Oyster Company. In January 1996, the Plock family donated those 14 acres and their unique facilities to the Peconic Land Trust. Since acquiring the property, the Trust has worked in partnership with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program to manage the facility. Today, Shellfisher Preserve is a model operational mariculture facility, after work to restore the old aquaculture buildings was completed. Much of the renovations were funded through grants from the NationalGrid (formerly KeySpan) Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture. The aquaculture facilities at Shellfisher Preserve are unique and have a historical significance to the shellfish aquaculture industry due to their innovative design.
Shellfisher Preserve is currently leased to a cooperative of shellfish farmers, The Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, overseen by Karen Rivara. The Southold Branch of the Noank Aquaculture Co-Op has been operating there since 2003, and members grow oysters, hard clams and bay scallops in the underground shellfish hatchery, and grow algae in the greenhouse above to feed the newborn bivalves. Once they mature, they are delivered to the waters of the Peconic Bay Estuary until they are harvested and enjoyed by diners at local as well as New York City restaurants, including Peconic Pearls -- these oysters are sold with a premium, which has been collected to support research efforts to identify specific causes of algae blooms that are having negative impacts on shellfih in the Peconic Estuary. Click here to learn more about the Peconic Pearls program.
In March 2015, Noank, Peconic Land Trust, National Grid Foundation and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County announced a partnership on a research initiative to improve water quality in the Peconic Estuary. The research initiative is funded through sales of "Peconic Pearls" and a matching grant from the National Grid Foundation. Findings from the study will be released in the summer of 2015. To read more about this unique partnership and research study, click here.
Shellfisher Preserve is a featured Case Study on the Land Trust Alliance's new web portal, Conservation in a Changing Climate, a resource-filled site about climate change and its implications for the conservation community. Click here for the Shellfisher Preserve case study.
Shellfisher on Film Want to see more about the conservation of the Shellfisher Preserve and the current aquaculture program now in operation at the site.
Alec Hirschfeld's documentary -- Out Here in the Fields -- presents three stories of conservation, including a look at the protection of Shellfisher Preserve. Watch it now on Vimeo! Call us at 631.283.3195 for more information or to purchase the DVD. The conservation of Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett and the Babinski farm fields in Wainscott are also profiled in Out Here in the Fields.
Alternatively, the website HungryNation.tv series Working Class Foodies has an episode featuring Karen Rivara of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative (the current lessee of the facility -- for more on the restoration and the work Noank is doing at the site, click here). Karen gives host Rebecca Lando a tour and tasting of the oysters at Shellfisher. A wonderful peek into the operation and the preserve.
Interested in touring Shellfisher Preserve? Click here to learn more.
And check out these other great links for more information on Shellfisher Preserve
Shelter Island Reporter: When the Oyster Was Shelter Island's World, October 7, 2014
In a Half Shell: North Fork Oyster Farms Tour, July 23, 2011
Oyster Guide: Peconic Paradise, May 12, 2015