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4 Mook Sea Farm staff started their first oyster harvest of the day on Sept. 22 later than normal, given the morning’s torrential rain and lightning. On some days when there’s a downpour a state alert shuts down oyster harvesting till water purity will be examined, as extra runoff into rivers may end up in unhealthy ranges of micro organism within the shellfish, which are sometimes eaten uncooked.
However on this present day the employees had been free to tug up floating oyster cages from the Damariscotta River, close to South Bristol. Below overcast skies, they yanked out six muddy baggage from every cage full of lots of of oysters and dumped them into massive bins on the boat. In a single hour they harvested practically 50,000 oysters to take again to the warehouse to course of and ship to native eating places.
Scientists and oyster farmers have seen extra intense storms over time, which have brought about frequent shutdowns. Oyster farmers in Maine have additionally needed to cope with one other results of local weather change: ocean acidification. Research present that the change within the chemistry of seawater, attributable to the ocean absorbing extra carbon dioxide, can sluggish the expansion of oyster larvae shells — and may typically even dissolve them.
The environmental adjustments have threatened the livelihoods of oyster farmers who rely on clear water. However in Maine, the farmers have fought again. They’ve provide you with options to enhance the marine setting, employed their very own researchers to know what is going on, shifted to utilizing renewable power and restricted their use of plastics, and turned to coverage work on the state and regional degree to construct local weather resilience.
Their efforts look like paying off. In 2021 the state’s oyster harvest was the most important in historical past, rising by greater than 50 p.c over the earlier 12 months, in accordance with the Maine Division of Marine Assets. The oyster enterprise was additionally essentially the most invaluable it has ever been at greater than $10 million, making it the fourth-most invaluable marine useful resource in Maine. It was value lower than $1.3 million only a decade in the past.
Clockwise from left: Mook Sea Farm employee Patrick Stafford (left) leans over the aspect of the boat to succeed in a floating oyster cage within the Damariscotta River in South Bristol, Maine on Thursday Sept. 22, 2022. At proper is Patrick Williams; Mike Sheehan and Jake Kollman head out to certainly one of Mook Sea Farm’s grids in search of floating oyster cages in want of repairs; Williams (left) and Stafford (proper) pull baggage of oysters from cages and cargo them into massive bins on a ship within the Damariscotta River. Credit score: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Some fishermen have frightened that oyster farms will restrict their entry to fishing grounds. However others level out that oysters add ecological worth for a lot of marine species, as oysters filter and clear the encompassing water. Oysters are farmed in salty or brackish coastal waters, as there will not be sufficient naturally occuring oysters within the colder waters on the outer coast to maintain a wild oyster fishery in Maine.
Invoice Mook, the proprietor of Mook Sea Farm who is taken into account a pioneer in Maine’s aquaculture trade, is hopeful about the place the trade is headed and happy to see it usher in many younger folks lately. Mook can be a founding father of the Shellfish Growers Local weather Coalition, which is made up of greater than 250 shellfish companies from throughout america and Canada that purpose to guard water.
“It’s an trade full of environmental advocates who’re advocating for insurance policies which are going to maintain their livelihoods going, and that’s a robust factor,” Mook stated.
Oyster farmers see the results of a altering local weather of their on a regular basis work. In 2009, Mook observed it was taking longer for oyster larvae to develop, resulting in losses. It struck him then that the tiny, free-swimming larvae had been taking on an excessive amount of power to filter feed and weren’t capable of develop with out satisfactory vitamin, as a consequence of adjustments in water chemistry.
Oyster larvae have to develop to have the ability to metamorphose — connect to a strong construction and develop their shell. The acidification of coastal waters resulted in a decrease seawater pH that prevented the oysters from thriving.
Clockwise from left: Mike Sheehan kinds oysters by measurement and high quality at Mook Sea Farm in South Bristol, Maine on Sept. 22, 2022; Employees are busy cleansing and sorting oysters; Steve Zimmerman, COO of Mook Sea Farm, holds oyster seeds in his hand. The oyster farm and hatchery on the Damariscotta River in South Bristol, Maine makes use of science and expertise to supply oysters sustainably. Credit score: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
To fight each the frequent shutdowns from storms and the ramifications of acidification, Mook arrange a shoreside warehouse that may maintain as much as half one million oysters at a time. The big bins of oysters are equipped by way of a piping system with 100,000 gallons of seawater, which is chemically buffered to increased pH ranges. Even with pure interruptions, Mook is ready to proceed to lift and promote oysters by way of his land operation.
Based in 1985, Mook Sea Farm prides itself on utilizing science and expertise to breed and lift oysters sustainably. Mook, educated in marine science, additionally owns a hatchery, housed in a separate constructing, that produces and sells oyster seed, or child oysters, to greater than 30 farms. Hatcheries like Mook’s are essential for the oyster trade, particularly in Maine the place there is no such thing as a wild set of oysters.
In addition to increase his infrastructure and guaranteeing different farms have the child oysters they should maintain their companies, six years in the past Mook additionally employed a researcher, Meredith White, to make his enterprise extra local weather resilient. White has labored with different researchers to deepen the understanding of regional coastal acidification.
Some fishermen have shifted to oyster farming as a result of they will management many manufacturing variables provided that the trade doesn’t rely on a wild inhabitants. That’s one motive why David Cheney switched to oyster aquaculture, he stated, after seeing diminishing clam harvests and rising prices of operation within the lobster trade. He based Johns River Oyster in New Harbor in 2007 and has gained fame from seeing his oysters served up on the always-booked Misplaced Kitchen restaurant in Freedom.
Cheney and others stated they get pleasure from elevating oysters due to their sustainability.
“The trade relies on hatcheries to supply seed and isn’t taking from the pure manufacturing of oysters,” stated Chris Davis, the manager director of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Middle, which was established by the Maine Legislature in 1988 to analysis and develop environmentally sustainable aquaculture practices. As well as, “there’s no discharge into the water column from oyster aquaculture.”
Oysters, like different shellfish, soak up vitamins by pumping in water. They seize particles reminiscent of plankton, algae, sediments and different contaminants, which they digest and filter. By way of this course of, oysters additionally sequester carbon to construct their shells, stated Robert Steneck, a professor of oceanography and marine biology on the College of Maine.
Clockwise from left: Steve Zimmerman, COO of Mook Sea Farm, explains that algae is grown within the hatchery as a meals supply for the oysters; Zimmerman explains how the workers use the setting system within the hatchery to assist larvae connect to a substrate and type their shell; Mook Sea Farm, an oyster farm and hatchery on the Damariscotta River in South Bristol, Maine, makes use of science and expertise to supply oysters sustainably. Credit score: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Davis additionally based Pemaquid Oyster Firm in Bristol in 1986, making it — together with Mook Sea Farm — among the many first oyster farms within the state. Sourcing its oyster seeds from native hatcheries, the corporate sells most of its oysters to native eating places in Maine and likewise ships them to main cities on the East Coast, together with New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
Oyster farmers pay shut consideration to local weather points as a result of they’ve been gathering water high quality knowledge for the reason that Eighties to make sure they’re producing a high-quality product, Davis stated.
Davis has prioritized involving the neighborhood in his work by serving to to arrange the Pemaquid Oyster Pageant — full with an oyster shucking contest — since 2001 in Damariscotta. Over the previous 20 years, the oyster pageant has raised greater than $175,000 to donate to 50 schooling, analysis and sustainability tasks, Davis stated.
The pageant actually started as a giant social gathering and a option to promote oysters, however, after the primary 12 months, it grew right into a nonprofit to concentrate on environmental considerations on the river and the sustainability of the trade, Davis stated.
A number of the funds went to space elementary and center colleges that educate programs on oysters, conservation teams defending the Damariscotta estuary, a fish ladder, and a sewage pump-out station for boats to eliminate waste and forestall direct discharge into the estuary.
Oyster farms are additionally turning to renewable power to cut back their carbon footprint.
In 2019, Brunswick-based Ferda Farms arrange a piece float with processing equipment to satisfy rising client calls for. To energy the work float, he selected to go photo voltaic. A fuel-power generator would have price practically $1,000, however Max Burtis opted for photo voltaic elements as a substitute for $3,500. Whereas it was a better upfront price, photo voltaic proved to be a extra inexpensive long-term possibility consistent with his imaginative and prescient for sustainability, he stated.
Ferda Farms was initially based by three highschool seniors — Max Burtis, Max Freedman and Samuel Dorval — in 2018. The highschool mates grew up digging clams. Presently, solely Max Burtis and his father, Chris Burtis, a business fisherman, run the corporate.
“I believe it’s possible to do photo voltaic to your small operations, off-grid, offshore, and it’s not terribly costly or tough,” Max Burtis stated, and “it’s dependable.”
Burtis stated he was impressed by the Mere Level Oyster Firm in Brunswick, which went photo voltaic two years earlier than them. Burtis has since helped different small farms discover and arrange solar energy.
The Pemaquid Oyster Firm can be exploring methods to make its operations extra sustainable and is trying into putting in photo voltaic panels this fall to offset power use, Davis stated.
There’s an ongoing effort to cut back the usage of plastic and styrofoam within the trade, in accordance with Afton Vigue, the outreach and growth specialist for the Maine Aquaculture Affiliation, which represents the trade.
The fishing trade has “among the greatest innovators,” Vigue stated. “They’ve been evolving their fishing methods, gear, and the place and what they fish for years.”
As an example, Ocean Farm Provide, based by Eric Oransky and Erin Adams of Maine Ocean Farms in Freeport, has created a biodegradable and compostable harvest bag manufactured from beechwood cellulose fibers.
Equally, Abigail Barrows, an ocean plastics researcher and the proprietor of Lengthy Cove Sea Farm in Deer Isle, has been experimenting with oyster baggage manufactured from wooden with chrome steel or aluminum mesh.
Burtis, with Ferda Farms, has switched to biodegradable baggage for market produce and can be trying into choices to fund the electrification of boats on the farm.
“We haven’t discovered an excellent answer to go plastic free but,” he stated. “That’s certainly one of our greatest points.”
Farmers in every single place can profit from studying from each other about learn how to deal with environmental challenges, which is why the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Middle will quickly announce a brand new program to facilitate technological trade between aquaculturists, Davis stated. This system will enable farmers to be taught totally different methods from aquaculture farms throughout North America, which they will then share with different Maine growers.
Many oyster enterprise homeowners are extremely educated people with specialised levels, stated Keri Kaczor, the environmental literacy and workforce growth program supervisor at Maine Sea Grant, a federal-state partnership to assist the coastal setting and economic system, primarily based on the College of Maine.
“There are actual trailblazers in our oyster trade in Maine,” Kaczor stated. “You don’t all the time see such a wedding between science and trade.”
Mehr Sher is a Report for America corps member. Further assist for this reporting is offered by the Unity Basis and donations by Bangor Every day Information readers.