Brunswick’s Mere Point Oyster Company ran one final tour of the season on Saturday, giving participants the opportunity to learn about the industry, shuck their own oysters and eat the salty shellfish.

The company was formed in 2015 and operates out of Maquoit Bay.

After plans were sidelined in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first year that tours of the roughly 38-acre, 1,000-cage oyster farm were offered.

“We suspend the oysters in the top 36 inches of water during the growing season, which is May to November,” said Mere Point Oyster Company co-owner Dan Devereaux during the tour. “Those oysters feed off the phytoplankton that’s blooming in that top 36-inches.”

According to Devereaux, Mere Point hopes to sell about 1 million oysters in 2021, making it the third- or fourth-largest farm in the state. Today, there are about 6 million oysters in varied stages of growth at the Maquoit Bay farm, Devereaux said.

Statewide, according to the Maine Oyster Trail – a guide and tourism initiative for the industry – oyster operations were worth over $8 million in 2019.

The aquaculture industry in general is on the rise in Maine, and according to a report by The Times Record, there were around 172 licensed operations in the state in May, which translates to just over 1,663 acres. Of that, over 615 acres or 102 operations were cultivating the American oyster.

Oysters are a keystone, filter-feeding species, according to Devereaux, and warming waters in Maine due to climate change make today’s environment more suitable for the aquaculture operation.

“Not only do they taste really good — they taste like you just dove in the ocean — they are incredible for the ecosystem,” Devereaux said. “These types of farms and farming is really a sustainable approach that’s sort of adapting to the climate change in the Gulf of Maine.”

Ten years ago in Maine, Devereaux said, it would take four years to grow market-ready oysters. Today, he said, it is closer to 18 months.

The tours were guided by Seacoast Tours of Freeport. According to the tour company captain/owner Peter Milholland, roughly 300 people attended the excursions over the course of the summer, averaging 15 people per trip.

“I spent about 25 years working for a local non-profit that did a lot of environmental education on Casco Bay,” said Milholland. “When I retired from that job, I knew I wanted to still do something on the water and communicate with people and do the education piece.”

In 2019, The Times Record reported that Mere Point’s farm was met with some pushback from waterfront residents and lobster fishermen. The operation received final approval from the state in Dec. 2019.

According to the Maine Oyster Trail, shells recovered from native Wabanki people suggest that oysters were once more widespread in the Gulf of Maine.

In 1949, the state unsuccessfully attempted to introduce the European oyster, according to the Maine Oyster Trail. Then in the 1970s, efforts lead by University of Maine researcher Herb Hidu brought hatchery technology to the state and trained the first oyster farmers.

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