EAST ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — As the beginning of the fall oyster harvest begins on Long Island, local officials joined together on Wednesday to celebrate the recovery of oystering on the Great South Bay.

Town of Islip officials and bay men lauded the bay bottom-leasing program, which they credit with the rebirth of the oyster industry on Long Island’s South Shore.

“Our two-year-old bay bottom-leasing program has allowed us to serve as good stewards of the precious natural resource known as Great South Bay and provides us with a growing source of revenue for the town,” Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said. “With our aquaculture program we have turned the tide back toward Blue Point oysters.”

Once a major industry in the 19th Century, oystering on Long Island has floundered for decades due to industry consolidation, demand-outstripping supply and natural factors, town officials said.

Along with the decline in the industry, came a decline in the quality of water in the Great South Bay, as oysters are able to filter up to 50 gallons of water in a single day, officials said.

Town officials credit the revival of the industry to privatizing its shellfish hatchery and agreeing to allow shellfish farmers to lease about 3,000 acres of the bay bottom near the hatchery.

“By privatizing the hatchery we cut $650,000 from the town’s budget,” said town Councilman Steven Flotteron. “Moreover, the operator of the hatchery makes payments to the town and the town collects royalties on its sales.”

Officials said the leasing program has the potential to bring in more than $2 million annually.

Hatchery owner Doug Winter said he believes oystering is now recovering on the Great South Bay.

Winter said he expects this year’s harvest to total several hundred thousand oysters, but that more than a million could be farmed from the bay in future years because of the leasing program.

Winter said demand from restaurants for genuine Blue Point oysters is high.

“As soon as these come in, they take other oysters off their menus,” he said.

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