Opening day for scallops brings memories — and a good catch

In fishing, as in real estate, it’s all about location, and on opening day of scallop season, there is no more appropriate or beautiful place to embark for prime scalloping spots than Congdons Creek, the heart of the Shelter Island scallop fishery since the 19th century. 

For baymen with a slip at the Congdons Creek dock, or waterfront property nearby, the Sunday afternoon before New York State waters opened for scallop fishing Monday morning was a scene of organized and orderly anticipation.

Rich Surozenski went back and forth between his black pickup truck, parked by the dock, and his boat in the slip, completing a last-minute repair. Asked where he was headed, Mr. Surozenski said, “Nobody’s talking, nobody’s talking.” But then he allowed he “might go out” to Northwest Harbor.

At daybreak Monday, that’s where Steve Lenox was headed in his boat, Sunrise Sunset. Other Shelter Islanders like Wayne and Donna King, Keith Clark and Don Walther motored out for the same destination, while a few boats went to Sag Harbor and a few others to Orient. But by the end of the day, it was clear there were scallops everywhere — and big ones.

Once a livelihood, scalloping is now a fishing sideline for the winter months, but a tradition of going out on opening day is still strong among some families. The scallop dinner that so many East Enders sat down to this week is a connection to the past, and a reminder of how sweet and good this place is at the nexus of land and sea.

Mr. Lenox brought in the first of his dredges — one of five — with a heavy load of enormous scallops, a very good sign for the season. Before 7 a.m., he had three bushels.

Early reports suggest a bountiful harvest is in store for this scalloping season. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

A green New York State Department of Environmental Conservation boat with four officers aboard pulled alongside Mr. Lenox’s vessel. DEC officer Benjamin Tabor jumped aboard to check on the size of the scallops and the number taken. Carefully stepping over the culling board to avoid crushing any scallops, he peered into each neatly marked bushel bag. The DEC boats had been making the rounds all morning, he said, visiting every scallop boat in sight.

When the inspection was complete, Mr. Lenox quizzed the officer on the best spots. “Where are the guys doing all right?” he asked.

“All over the place,” Mr. Tabor said. “Seems like over here in Northwest is doing good.”

“How about Sag Harbor?” Mr. Lenox asked.

“The Clarks have it all tied up over at Sag Harbor,” the officer responded.

A fishing boat of the East Marion Causeway Monday. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

By noon, Mr. Lenox had his limit, which he described as “the number of scallops that Pat and I can open before dinner time.”

He carefully tucked almost five bushels into the cockpit. “I once saw a whole row of bags go over the side when a guy came around Cedar Point and hit the wind,” he said.

Sunrise Sunset turned toward home, around the lighthouse, past Taylor’s Island and along the peninsula where the Clark family homes, docks and a former scallop shack sit on a finger of land surrounded on three sides by creek and bay.

At the entrance to Congdons Creek, Mr. Lenox pointed out a well-cared-for home at the very tip of the peninsula. Every window on the broad east side of the house faced Coecles Harbor. It was once the home of Eddie and Louise Clark, he said, and still is in the Clark family.

“Louise used to sit out here,” he said. “She’d wave to all the scallopers coming back on opening day.”

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