Millions of clams have expired recently at the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery, and no one can figure out why. “It’s a mystery,” says director John Aldred. The hatchery, located on Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, raises 8 million to 10 million clams a season, which are deposited into East Hampton harbors to mature. Later they’re fished out and turn up on the menu. “We’ve had about a one-third mortality rate over the last three batches,” says Aldred. Both bacteria and disease have been ruled out as possible culprits, and Aldred suspects the deaths may be related to toxins. “Something in the water or air is stressing these clams until they die,” he says. He suspects that man-made contaminants are responsible but doesn’t know the source. The hatchery’s scallops had less severe, possibly related problems as well. Hamptons restaurants can rest easy for now: The hatchery is raising more batches to make up quotas. “Clams need two years’ growing time after they’re released into the wild, so the local eateries won’t be affected yet,” says Aldred. “In the meantime, we’re hoping to solve the die-off mystery.”
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