Want to learn more about oysters and taste some? Here’s your chance: Next Thursday, October 16, the World Affairs Council of Maine is presenting an event called Oyster Aquaculture: Local and Global Challenges & Opportunities. The event, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. at at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Commercial Street, will feature talks by one of my favorite oyster women – Maine’s own Abigail Carroll of Nonesuch Oysters. Chris Sherman of Island Creek Oysters will also iscuss the work of the Island Creek Foundation, which promotes oyster aquaculture in developing nations like Haiti and Tanzania.
There is an admission charge of $20 for WAC members and $30 for non-members, oyster bar featuring Island Creek and Nonesuch Oysters included.
For more information: www.wacmaine.org
The last couple years I have visited Abigail at her oyster farm. This past summer she began an Oyster Tasting Tour program. Guests tour the farm on a 19’ Carolina Skiff, afterwards the sorting table becomes a tasting area where guests gather as Abigail and crew shuck oysters, cut lemon wedges, and prepare a mignonette sauce.
Advance registration is required, tours are limited to groups of up to six people at a time. The tour takes about 1.5 hours and includes one half-dozen oysters per person. The rate is $50. Guests are invited bring the pairing beverage of their choice.
Following are a few pictures from one visit and a brief Q&A from 2012 with updates in bold from this month.
How did you come upon naming the farm?
We are located right off of Nonesuch Point and the word Nonesuch said everything that needed to be said. It means one of a kind AND it refers to a place. What more could one ask for in a name?
How did you decide what oysters to grow?
There really was no decision to make. Our principal crop is the Crassostrea Virginica, which is what everyone on the Eastern Seaboard raises. What makes everyone’s oysters different is the environment in which they are raised. We speak of “Meroir” with the French root of “mer” or “sea” now the way wine connoisseurs speak of “Terroir.”
Would you describe the “traditional, environmentally-safe” grow-out method you use.
We buy very small spat, about 1.5 mm in size, and put it into a nursery – an up-weller – where the oysters are contained and fed by water we pump from the estuary. There are no additives; they drink only natural water from the estuary. When the oysters get to be about ¼” we take them to our grow-out site in floating bags where they stay until we harvest. As the farm grows, we hope to do more ground seeding. Our “Free Range” oysters are particularly gorgeous.
We are successfully moving to ground seeded – Free Range – oysters. And they are beautiful. I’m super proud of them. They are sweet, briny and a beautiful shade of green.
We had a tough winter in 2013/14 and were terribly short oysters but next year should be a good year. And we will harvest almost exclusively our free-range oysters.
How does environmental responsibility equal good business? Does it make for a better product? Is crop yield affected?
Oyster farms are generally seen as having a net benefit on the local watershed. Oysters filter water, keeping it clean and during intense algae blooms they absorb excess phytoplankton which keeps dissolved oxygen levels balanced for other marine organisms. Oyster shells breakdown and help lower acid levels and natural oyster beds can help slow erosion as well.
But there are best practices we maintain to make sure that our human presence on the water has a minimum impact.
Personally, I’ve tried to get involved in some of the environmental issues facing Saco Bay as a whole. And when I’m invited to speak about Nonesuch, I always segue into a discussion about the ecology of our bay and the impact we as individuals all have on the watershed.