As we approach Thanksgiving, colder weather and some more frequent windy days, I reflect back on the few first months as an oyster farmer. I knew getting into this I would be challenged in an environment that I truly enjoy. But to say this has been a challenge would be slightly understated. Oyster farming has been a series of precious moments, experiencing the most amazing environment combined with moments of feeling completely overwhelmed.
I received my oysters about the size a of a dime in August. Starting with 75,000 oysters, I loaded them up in my cooler and split them up into 12 bags (6 cages). Starting the very next week I started cleaning the seaweeds and growth off the cages and bags. I would shake each bag of oysters to promote a desired deeper cup for the oyster to grow into. That was the protocol through about the 1st week of September until I started sorting the oysters into two groups with a makeshift sifter. Whatever fell through the mesh of my 2 x 2 sifter got bagged together separately. Whether they were fast or slow growing, they all got the shake treatment before re-entering the water. Soon enough (after my first day) I realized I needed an oyster sorting tube. I was familiar with one I worked with while volunteering at SPAT with the Cornell Cooperative Marine Unit in Southold. Their's was stainless steel and about six feet long, with a progression of larger and larger holes. As it spun it allowed the different size oysters to drop into different bins below. It also spun with a motor. Mine would not. Mine also had to fit neatly on the already cramped space on my 18 foot Privateer, all withing a shoe string budget. And it had to be built in one morning to accommodate my already tight schedule. Using landscape mesh, a little help from pictures on the web and some ingenuity I accomplished my goal and was out sorting oysters. It saved me a tremendous amount of time and that feeling of be overwhelmed was once again defeated.
Everything was going an growing well until the dreaded seaweed. It started in October. Since then I have been spending most of my time pulling off loads and loads of what I believe to be Rockweed. Whatever it's called, its a big mess and somehow manages to attach to my lines, hundreds and hundreds of pounds of it. It also binds together separate lines and cages in bad storms. It's like untangling a bird nest on a fishing reel. Between pulling apart seaweed, I have somehow managed to continue to cull oysters into different sizes but at a much slower pace. Chris, thanks for your help! I have gone from 6 cages with 12 bags to 42 cages with 84 bags. Think about that. What fit in my cooler when I got stated just a few short months ago has increased in volume by a magnitude of 7+ in size. I have already opened to taste test a dozen or so oysters. And it's not even Thanksgiving.
Yesterday it was also windy. So I spent a much needed day working on the boat replacing plugs, fuel filters and a just discovered leaking fuel line. Nothing goes as planned and what should have took 30 minutes took half the day.
So what do I have to be thankful you ask? Everything! I am lucky to be working on the water, farming oysters in one of the most beautiful places I know. I work about 1000 feet off the beautiful 1200+ acre Mashomack preserve. I have seen an abundance of sea life form habitats in my cages, and tons of wild life, my closest neighbors on the preserve. To date, I have experienced little to to almost no mortality in my oysters and myself :). My oysters are growing amazingly well. I have gotten to see and truly appreciate more sunrises in a few short months than I have my entire life. And I have my health and family and friends that support me.
I still have a lot of work going forward before the new year and I know it will be overwhelming at times. But I know if I just keep moving forward, one step at a time, I will accomplish my goal. And most importantly, I have a lot to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!!