OYSTER BAY, N.Y. — Local restaurants, baymen and shellfish lovers are feeling the pain as the state ban on harvesting Oysters from their namesake bay continues.
But they got some consolation from the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) announcement that it was lifting the ban on hard clams from the same waters.
The temporary shellfish consumption ban that DEC had imposed on Oyster Bay shellfish harvested on or after July 1 was partially lifted, effective at sunrise on August 4. It had been in place since July 12.
The agency collected hard clam and oyster samples on July 16 and 30 and sent the samples to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be tested for increased levels of the bacteria vibrio parahaemolyticus.
It was then determined that, with the exception of oysters, all shellfish were once again safe to eat.
“The shellfish naturally carry this bacteria, but because of warmer water, a toxic strain of the bacteria that causes illness is produced,” said William Hastbeck, a marine biologist for the DEC.
Local restaurants felt the impact of being unable to sell local shellfish.
“We sell local oysters, and we took them off the menu because we won’t sell them from anywhere else,” said Bernie DelBello, owner of Jack Halyard’s.
DelBello says he usually orders several hundred oysters per week from Frank M. Flowers and Son on Bayview Ave.
His restaurant has been known to give out free oysters during happy hour. DelBello says his customers were saddened that there are no oysters on the menu but were understanding.
Another restaurant serving shellfish did not take them off the menu, but switched to shipping them in from Canada.
“I would prefer to sell a local product to support my neighbors,” said Robert O’Brien, owner of Wild Honey restaurant, but he chose to buy shellfish from Canada to keep the seafood on the menu.
O’Brien says his customers have been receptive to the change, and he noticed little impact on his business. “People like local oysters, but they understand why we can’t have them.”
Oyster Bay shellfish aren’t just eaten locally, they are also shipped to multiple states. The first case of illness caused by shellfish from Oyster Bay came from someone in Missouri.