Monday, August 27, 2012

Big Rock Oyster Farm Tour

Great Time had by All at the Big Rock Oyster Farm Tour with MOP
VIP Guest blogger- Sarah Barsamian

After reading Erin Byers Murray's account of daily life working on an oyster farm, I have been intrigued to see what it all might actually look like.  Today couldn't have been a more perfect day to have a meet and greet with those delicious little bivalves out in Dennis.

Jesse, Josh and son Henry on the way in.  Photo Credit Sarah Barsamian

The farm from a distance.  Photo Credit Sarah Barsamian

The tour began with an open air jungle safari....minus the animals.......and the jungle.....Ok, well we were in the bed of farmer Aaron's pickup, winding through the dunes and sand down to the beach.  But it felt like a safari.  And we were on the hunt for oysters!  As a regular beach-goer/lover, I had never seen a beach quite like where we were today.  It seemed like instead of a towel and rolling cooler, beach bums cruised in-literally-to the beach with their Jeep Wranglers, Chevy pick-ups or even their Honda sedans!  Cars at the beach....that was a first for me!
The farm.  Photo Credit Sarah Barsamian

As we came down the dune path onto the flat stretch of low tide beach, we saw hundreds of the oyster houses (I think the actual term is a rack, but it is more fun to call them oyster houses) and our small party of 30 gathered around.  Farmers Aaron and Eric happily answered our questions about the farm and about oysters while MOP volunteer (and oyster aficionado) Josh Hoch shucked oysters straight from the racks for tour goers to slurp down.  I witnessed a few kids try their first raw oyster ever.  Gotta give them props!  And when I had snapped a few dozen photos (a little hobby of mine), I had my chance to try an oyster.  I have to say that I have had a good share of oysters-whether it has been at home or out at a restaurant-raw, grilled, in a shooter, topped with a myriad of tasty things-and they all have been quite delicious.  But to be able to enjoy one straight from the farm, on a perfect August day, practically right out of the hands of the farmers who have worked tirelessly to raise them from seed-brings with it a whole new level of appreciation.

Josh demonstrating his shucking technique.  Photo Credit Sarah Barsamian

I had the chance to ask Aaron a few questions about the farm and learned a few nuggets of knowledge:

-for only $25 a year, anyone who lives in Dennis can farm their own oysters!!!!  Well, if you are lucky enough to get through the wait list, and if after the many years of waiting, you happen to have say, $250,000 worth of equipment at your disposal-then yes, you too can be an oyster farmer.  Personally, I would rather leave it to farmers Aaron and Eric, especially because I have a notoriously black thumb.

-the farmers and their workers often get out to the farm at the wee hours of the morning to harvest oysters, deliver them to restaurants in Boston (like Legal Seafoods!) and be done in time to go to another job!  That is a lot of dedication and love right there!

-It takes 3 years for an oyster to grow from seed to appropriate harvest size.  We had the chance to see some small oysters that had rapidly increased in size from seed in February to about the size of a quarter!  Those oysters must be eating their spinach!

Oysters in their first and third years.  Photo Credit Sarah Barsamian

-The farmers take all the oysters out of the water and store them inside during Winter because the beach freezes over and the oysters would die.  Farmer Aaron said this process is his least favorite week of the year.  I should say!

All in all, today was an awesome day!  Lots of people came out and learned about oyster farming and also a little about the wonderful things that the Mass Oyster Project is doing.  My husband and I always have a great time at MOP events and we are looking forward to the next event in Plymouth (beer and oysters? Yes please!!!).

Eat me at the October 6 MOP event at Mayflower Brewery- Big Rock will be supplying the oysters.                              Photo Credit Sarah Barsamian

I have only one other little tidbit for you oyster fans out there.  Don't shuck without protection!  Trust me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mashpee Using Oysters to Control Pollution

Through a friend of MOP, Curt Felix in Wellfleet, we learned of the work Richard York, the Mashpee Shellfish Constable.The following is an excerpt from a write-up on the initiative that is actively using oysters to improve water quality. 

In 2004 the town initiated an oyster aquaculture project in the Mashpee River for the purposes of restoration of the lost oyster fishery and mitigate eutrophication. Algae blooms fueled by nitrogen loading intensified to the point of creating temporary anoxic conditions causing fish and crab die-offs.

Map of the Mashpee River

Oysters can control blooms by filtering algae from the water for food. Plastic mesh bags containing very small oyster seed set on pieces of shell in the hatchery were transported to the river. After the seed grew larger, the bags were opened and the seed spread out in mesh trays for growout. More seed was stocked annually. 
Mature Oysters

Since harvests started in 2006 and a large biomass of oysters has been growing in the river, no mass fish mortalities have occurred. 

Nitrogen Removal 
The 2008 harvest of 520,000 oysters removed about 260 kilograms of nitrogen from the estuary based on analysis of oysters sampled from the river (0.5 g N/oyster). This was about 4% of the 6563 kg of nitrogen reduction needed to meet the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen in the river requiredby the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP 2006,Report #96-TMDL-4). 

New oyster seed is purchased every year with the goal of harvesting a million oysters a year removing 500 kg of nitrogen. This would be about 8% of the reduction needed to meet the TMDL for nitrogen.

The Town uses fees from oyster licenses to fund the program.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Shellshocked Documentary in Wellfleet Aquaculture is Huge, Important and Growing

Shellshocked Documentary in Wellfleet August 19th

If you missed the Mass Oyster Sponsored showings in Winthrop and Boston and you are on the Cape, you can catch this award winning documentary which focuses on oysters in New York City.  Director Emily Driscoll is the most mid-western New Yorker you will ever meet!

W.H.A.T. in conjunction with SPAT and the Town of Wellfleet will be hosting a free community screening of SHELLSHOCKED on Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 4pm "Saving Oysters to Save Ourselves” follows efforts to prevent the extinction of wild oyster reefs, which keep our oceans healthy by filtering water and providing many other ecosystem benefits. Today, because of overfishing and pollution, wild oyster reefs have been declared 'the most severely impacted marine habitat on Earth' and no longer play a role in their ecosystems.  Now scientists, government officials, artists and environmentalists are fighting to bring oysters back to the former oyster capital of the world" - New York Harbor.  Join SPAT, the Town of Wellfleet and WHAT for the Cape Cod debut of this important documentary.  Following the film will be a panel discussion led by film producer Emily Driscoll and panelists Anamarija Frankic, Andy Koch.  Curt Felix, Vice Chair Wellfleet Wastewater committee and Dan Lombardo, Artistic Director from WHAT will be moderating.

The Importance of Aquaculture

This is an excerpt from a blog on aquaculture and the statistics were amazing and interesting. I knew that aquaculture is important to preserving the Eastern oyster (ironically after almost wiping it out in the 1800s in New England and the 1900's in the Chesapeake.)

Upwards of 50% of all seafood consumed in the world is farm produce. This is a dramatic increase, since a mere 30 years ago less than 10% of all seafood was produced by aquaculture. While seafood production from wild capture has remained relatively flat over the past 30 years, growing at a mere 1.0% annually, seafood produced by aquaculture has grown by 8.3% per year.

According to the Food and AgriculturalOrganization (FAO) of the United Nations, aquaculture is the fastest growing source of animal protein. Currently, salmon, shrimp, pangasius, tilapia, abalone, clams, trout, oysters, scallops, mussels, seriola and cobia are the most common species of farmed seafood. Sixty percent of aquaculture production is from bodies of freshwater while the balance is from estuaries or the sea.

The worldwide total yearly aquaculture production of finfish, shellfish and plants now surpasses 75 million metric tons. This compares with beef (65 million metric tons), pork (109 million metric tons) and poultry (98 million metric tons), making aquaculture a major source of protein. 

This dramatic growth in aquaculture has enabled global per capita consumption of aquatic protein and plants to increase over time without further taxing wild species. Aquatic plant and animal contribution to the human diet has reached an all-time record of 23.9 kilograms per person on average; supplying 3 billion people with at least 15% of their animal protein intake. Over the past 30 years, per capita consumption of seafood has grown by 1.1% annually despite 1.5% population growth.

The FAO projects that aquaculture has the potential to meet the protein needs of 500 million additional people. 

Globally, aquaculture is heavily concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the FAO’s most recent statistics, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 89.1% of global aquaculture production with China alone contributing 62.3%. Of the fifteen leading aquaculture-producing countries, eleven are in the Asia-Pacific region. Africa, on the other hand, only produces 2% of global aquaculture, and yet is one of the more protein-deficient regions of the world. It is interesting that one of the Island Creek Founcation's activities is in Zanzibar an island off the coast of Tanzania off the coast of Africa.

The potential for coastal saltwater aquaculture is considerable. For instance, food-challenged Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa and could advance as a major producer of farmed shrimps.
Fish raised in a farm environment convert feed to protein much more efficiently than the farming of land animals. The primary reason for this is that fish are cold blooded and they require no energy to maintain their body temperature. Alligators also are cold blooded and efficient at adding body mass. For an alligator it takes 2 pounds of protein to generate 1 pound in body weight. The following chart compares the feed efficiencies of fish to terrestrial animals (kilos of grain per one kilo of meat):

The amount of arable land that can be farmed is finite.  And in many areas it is decreasing due to development of suburban housing or industrialization. The world needs to use every resource available as efficiently as possible in order to feed its population.Aquaculture can be part of the answer to this challenge. We also should keep in mind that many forms of aquaculture do have environmental costs as well. Fortunately in the case of oysters the ancillary impact of water cleansing, offsetting ocean acidity, and sheltering other species are largely positive.

To see the original post from which this is extracted please go here.