Islip to invest $10M for new shellfish hatchery to meet regional demand

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Islip plans to invest $10 million in state money into building a new, larger shellfish hatchery, town officials said, citing a need to meet regional demand.

The town aims to increase shellfish production from between 20 and 40 million juvenile clams and oysters to between 100 and 200 million, said Martin Bellew, the commissioner of Islip’s department of environmental control.

The town also wants to start production of around half a billion oyster larvae and “spat on shell,” Bellew said.

“It’s a great benefit for the environment,” he said, noting that oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.

The expansion will allow the town to supply more shellfish to private farmers and other municipalities, Supervisor Angie Carpenter said. Islip has already started to see an improvement in water quality thanks to the hatchery helping to boost the  Great South Bay’s  mollusk population, she said.

“The demand is there and we’re not able to meet the demand,” she said. 

The East Islip hatchery spawns and grows oyster and clams as juveniles, or seed, to sell to farmers and other townships, said Chris Leanza, the facility manager. The hatchery also grows shellfish to market-size that are used either for water restoration in Islip or to spawn more shellfish.

“They’re considered a keystone species, which means that having them in the environment allows so many other marine species to thrive,” he said, highlighting their role in water filtration.

Around 20 farmers as well as the towns of Oyster Bay, Smithtown, Brookhaven and Riverhead all purchase seed from the Islip hatchery, Leanza said.

The shellfish program yields approximately $200,000 to $300,000 annually for the town, Islip Town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said. 

State officials said in a news release Wednesday Islip’s hatchery is “rapidly aging,” and is one of “few in-state shellfish hatcheries.” New York oyster farmers purchased 39% of their juvenile mollusks in 2023 from hatcheries in New England states, officials said.

The $10 million in funding for the new Islip hatchery will come from existing state capital funding sources, according to state officials.

Bellew said the new facility will be built near the current hatchery, which the town may later use for “educational purposes.”

Islip has yet to draw up a design for the new hatchery, but Bellew said it could be between 16,000 and 18,000 square feet.

The total cost also is yet to be determined, but Bellew said the town is aiming to keep the price tag between $10 million and $15 million.

While Islip technically funds the hatchery, the sale of shellfish seed makes the operation self-sufficient, he said. 

The town expects to start construction by summer 2025, Smith said.