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Blue Stream Shellfish, LLC – A Morning in the Life of an Oyster Aquaculture Crew

There is a growing demand for more sustainable food sources on our planet. Aquaculture poses one of the more promising ways to meet this objective. Not only does aquaculture provide sustainable seafood, but also ecological, environmental, economic, and societal benefits to our world.

The 2018 Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries annual report stated that the Massachusetts Oyster industry was valued at $27.5 million. The Massachusetts aquaculture industry is still in its infancy and is predicted to develop and continue to grow exponentially.

In our developing Restorative Aquaculture program at Northeast Maritime Institute, we have been collaborating and gaining aquaculture experience with our industry partners and Nasketucket Bay, Fairhaven sea farming neighbors like Blue Stream Shellfish LLC. (BSS).

What follows is one of my typical mornings when I intern with the crew at Blue Stream Shellfish to learn the ropes in oyster aquaculture.

Every Tuesday morning, I join the morning shift with the crew at Blue Stream Shellfish in Fairhaven, MA. I take a final left hand turn across from Hoppy’s Landing before the West Island causeway and into the West Island Marina parking lot. I put on my rain bibs, my boots, and my gloves, grab my water bottle and head toward the Blue Stream Shellfish docks. I am here to learn the ins and outs of oyster aquaculture. After teaching nautical science and sailing for the past 40 years, I realize that it is much more effective to teach a subject that you have gained experience in!

I join some of the BSS crew in the 25’ Carolina work skiff. We motor out to the farm site in Nasketucket Bay. We haul lantern nets, pull bags full of oysters from bottom cages and floating oyster “condos” (wire mesh cages that contain multiple bags of oysters in racks within the cage). The oyster bags get piled into the skiff. We return to the processing barge, the bags and nets are opened, and loaded into the sorting hopper. A conveyor system pulls oysters from the hopper bin into a slow spinning cylindrical drum where the oysters are cleaned and tumbled to develop shape before they are cleaned, sorted, and sized on the culling table.

Four to six BSS crew process the oysters on the culling tables. Each oyster is externally cleaned (of marine growth) by hand, and then sized as “Grande”/4+ inches extra-large, “Market”/3 inches, “Petite”/2.5-3 inches, “put-backs”/(go back into the cages to grow) or “boxes”/shell only. This processing goes on all morning with a break midway. Other tasks are taking place simultaneously while the sorting goes on. Emptied bags and nets are power washed of barnacles, tunicates, sponges and other marine growth and then readied to be redeployed. Market oysters are counted and bagged to make up outstanding orders to be delivered or picked up.

So… what have I learned from my Tuesday morning sea farming on-the-job training? I’ve learned by hands-on experience the intricacies of culturing oysters from seed to market. There is a great deal of labor and care that goes into an oyster that is ready for the consumer to enjoy. Oyster farming like all farming is demanding, repetitive, and physical. It is fulfilling work to provide locally grown seafood to the community to enjoy and sustain them. It is a blessing to work on the sea in a setting as lovely as Nasketucket Bay, Fairhaven Massachusetts. It makes me proud to work shoulder to shoulder with such a fun loving, hardworking, smart, capable, sterling Blue Stream Shellfish oyster farming team!

Click here to learn more about NMI’s Office of Restorative Aquaculture.

David Bill

Restorative Aquaculture Program Director
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