The view from Phippsburg’s West Point, where the Basin Oyster Project seeds and maintains two 400-square-foot floating oyster bags in the intertidal zone. The project was awarded a $190,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation earlier this month. Photos by Luna Soley / The Times Record

A small oyster-farming operation in Phippsburg is getting a big boost in the form of a $190,000 grant.

Pull off at the Basin Oyster Project’s wharf on Phippsburg’s Wallace Circle and you might wonder whether to knock.

Cedar shingles long gone silver overlap tightly on the façade, which beckons with inviting — if conflicting — signage.

“Coffee,” reads a wooden canoe paddle; “Scallop Salon” and “The Store” frame a broad-beamed door. “Maine Oyster Co. Farm Stand” is probably the most informative. Dot Kelly and John Herrigel of the Basin Oyster Project call it “basecamp.”

“Basecamp” for the Basin Oyster Project, an old general store with a rich history.

Nov. 17 was a big day for the Basin Oyster Project. It put on an all-day workshop titled “Planting the Seed,” hosting speakers from a variety of disciplines and nearly 40 participants, many of whom joined in a raw bar and polar plunge later in the afternoon. That same day, the Maine Community Foundation awarded the project a $190,000 grant, money that will fund the growing sustainable shellfish restoration and research for another two years.

The project got its start back in 2019, when a pilot started by Nature Conservancy employees Jeremy Bell and Amanda Moeser in Phippsburg’s Basin Preserve was handed over to Kelly and Herrigel along with a Limited Purpose Aquaculture license and $1,000 in funding. Four years, plenty of collaborators and two $20,000 grants later, the BOP has two 40-by-10-foot floating oyster bags that Phippsburg resident Kelly helps tend to by kayak.


“This all works so well because everyone has their own agenda, and everyone has a shared agenda with a community focus,” said Kelly and Herrigel, who are quick to name an abundance of collaborators, including the Phippsburg shellfish and conservation commissions, of which Kelly is a member; as well as Bowdoin and Colby colleges; The Nature Conservancy; conservation nonprofit Manomet; and aquaculture startups North East Saltwater and the Maine Oyster Company.

“I’ve been doing this for four years and now it’s a real thing,” Kelly said. “I took this little thing on and now it’s sustainable.”

Dot Kelly and John Herrigel point out a new saltwater tank in the office.

The project will use its grant from the Maine Community Foundation to “explore the social-ecological factors important for sighting oyster reef restoration sites.” This will include digging into the concerns of local stakeholders such as wild shellfish harvesters, fishermen and neighbors as well as ecological research into the viability of different areas for oyster reef building, explains Colby College environmental studies professor and collaborator Caitlin Cleaver.

“The project has just grown beyond what my expectations ever were for the site,” said Bell, who now works as The Nature Conservancy’s Climate Adaptation Program director. “The actual on-the-ground footprint isn’t that big, but the outreach and the science and the education [the BOP has] been doing in the community is just incredible. … It turned out to be a great decision to invite them to take over the project from us.”

For Herrigel, owner of the Maine Oyster Company and staple at the BOP’s “basecamp,” along with Kelly, the reward is building an “aggregator of community and industry.” Herrigel, a full-time oyster farmer, knows how to keep the floating bags of oysters in the basin healthy and growing. But he has also kept in mind the roots of the project as well as his own. His parents bought the building that houses the BOP — once intended as a general store — out of foreclosure in the early 2000s. Herrigel remembers how “the great grandson of the guy who built the building was helping me put in the live edge wood milled for the rebirth of the general store.” That great grandson is Dean Doyle, who serves on the Shellfish Commission with Kelly and has been instrumental in mentoring the project. It’s clear from the way Herrigel tidies up tools, to-do lists and scraps of gear while he talks that he loves the place, an ecosystem as interconnected as the one where his oysters grow, in the intertidal.

And then there’s the work.

“I was out kayaking on Tuesday, and I must admit that I’m thinking this is amazingly glorious,” Kelly said. “I was cold, but now I’m kayaking out getting warmer,” she remembers feeling.

Kelly worked nearly full time that first season in 2019, and now tends to the floats one full day each week. She contends with wind, rain and changing tides. But, as she puts it, “To know an oyster is to love an oyster.”

A collage of drawings and newsletters from years of community outreach at the Basin Oyster Project’s home on Wallace Circle in Phippsburg.

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