May 30, 2011

Oyster farmers crack open a hungry market

Demand for Maine mollusks has growers seeking licenses for larger-scale operations.

By Ann S. Kim
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Nate Perry is growing oysters on the Scarborough River.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Abigail Carroll of Nonesuch Oysters holds a Belon oyster.

Additional Photos Below

In addition to proper temperatures, oysters need areas that are free from fecal coliform contamination. Other considerations include navigation, water flow and other uses of the area.

Both Perry and Carroll are growing American, or Eastern, oysters, which account for nearly all the oysters from Maine. Wellfleets, bluepoints and Pemaquids are all American oysters that come from different locations.

Perry expects to sell his oysters under the name Pine Point Oyster Co. in time for Independence Day, and Carroll has been selling hers as Nonesuch Oysters.

He hopes to sell about 1,000 a week, while she hopes to increase production from hundreds a week to thousands.

As a side project, Carroll is also growing Belons, or European flats, the other type of oyster found in Maine. Distinctive in their metallic undertones, Belons are prized in their homeland of France and among connoisseurs. They are also more difficult to grow. Carroll is growing them as part of a research project coordinated by the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education.

Oysters are a high-value product, with American oysters able to fetch 50 or 60 cents apiece on the wholesale market, according to Lewis. That market was worth more than $1.75 million last year.

The strength of Maine's brand is based not just on the state's reputation as a pristine area. There's a biological basis as well, Belle noted.

Water temperatures in Maine are relatively cold, which means that oysters here generally do not spawn. When oysters direct their energies toward reproduction, their glycogen content falls, making them less sweet and plump, Belle said.

Maine oyster farmers cannot grow enough to satisfy demand, and it's not uncommon for growers to have to ration the number they provide to each account, Belle said.

"There aren't enough Maine oysters for the world," Carroll said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be

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Additional Photos

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Abigail Carroll inspects one of her oyster bags on the Scarborough River.

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Nate Perry fills an oyster bag that will be placed in the Scarborough River to allow the oysters to mature. It takes about three years to grow oyster seeds – about 2 millimeters big – to market size.

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