Oysters are collected in a crate, Sunday, April 25, 2021, in Brunswick. Maine is producing more oysters than ever due to a growing number of shellfish farms that have launched off its coast in recent years. The state’s haul of oysters, the vast majority of which are from farms, grew by more than 50% last year to more than 6 million pounds. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

Glory-seeking home chefs are invited to Freeport this weekend to test their shucking skills against the best.

Friday marks the beginning of Freeport’s first-ever Maine Oyster Festival, a three-day event that will draw oyster farmers and fans from around the state.

“It’s a delicious and fun day,” said award-winning chef and seafood educator Barton Seaver. “What a great way to celebrate the ragged, jagged, delicious coast, we live on.”

Seaver and Freeport oyster farmer Emily Selinger will kick off the weekend with a lecture about the practice and benefits of aquaculture at 5:30 p.m. Friday at L.L. Bean’s Discovery Park, according to Kelly Edwards, executive director of event organizer Visit Freeport.

The newly opened Freeport Oyster Bar will host a kick-off party at 7 p.m. Friday before guests take to the streets Saturday to sample shellfish from more than 30 farms located up and down Maine’s coast.

Visitors to the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday in L.L. Bean’s Discovery Park, can purchase single raw oysters for $2 or Seaver’s flight of four wood-fired oysters for $15.


Freeport Oyster Bar co-owner Ken Sparta planted the seed for the festival two years ago after the aquaculture industry had been rocked by the pandemic, according to Edwards.

“You think about the restaurants really suffering and the hardship that they went through,” she said. “But I hadn’t really thought about the local food producers behind the restaurant.”

Before the pandemic, Americans consumed about 80% of their seafood in restaurants, according to Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association. When restaurants abruptly shut down, demand for seafood cratered, leaving growers without a source of income.

Several programs helped reshape the industry so that growers could more easily reach consumers directly, Belle said. Yet while those changes, combined with the resurgence of restaurants, has helped farmers recover, he said it’s important to continue to educate Mainers about the economic, environmental and health benefits of seafood.

“Aquatic plants and animals convert energy much more efficiently than animals and plants on land,” he said, noting aquaculture’s small environmental footprint. “That’s really what’s driving a lot of the growth, not just in Maine but globally. Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production method in the world.”

Maine’s oyster growers sold more than 6 million pounds of oysters last year, worth more than $10 million on the docks in 2021, according to data from the Department of Marine Resources.


The festival, which will feature growers from more than 30 Maine sea farms, aims to familiarize visitors with oysters and how to prepare them, Seaver said.

“It’s a way to sort of bring seafood to the fold – normalize it in a way,” he said. “(Seafood) is not a huge part of the American diet: well below what our own government and nutritionists recommend.”

Shucking competitions will run every half-hour on Saturday, Edwards said. The fastest to shuck 12 oysters in each heat will win a prize, and the owner of the day’s fastest time will compete against the pros in one final “Big Shuck” at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Those who need a break from snacking on shellfish will be able to enjoy specials from local restaurants, science lessons from the Maine Aquaculture Association and Maine Sea Grant, an art exhibit at Meetinghouse Arts, and free kids crafting with the Boothbay Sea and Science Center, Edwards said.

But those who can’t get enough can look forward to oyster-themed jewelry – and even chocolate.

“It doesn’t taste like oysters,” Edwards clarified. “It just looks like them.”

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