Happy Friday, Mes Belles!
Lately, for a project I have in my Ecosystem Science and Sustainability class, I have been doing a lot of reading and research on Shellfish – more particularly on Oyster Aquaculture in Rhode Island – and I wanted to share some of the interesting things I have learned along the way with you fine specimen. If you recall, I went to the Ocean State Oyster Festival back in the Fall, and it was amazing.
Let me start off by saying that Oysters are awesome. Not only are they delicious raw on the half shell (click here for a list of Rhode Island buck-a-shuck oyster bars; it’s something you won’t regret), but they are incredible filters, with an adult oyster being able to filter up to 50 gallons of seawater per day as it goes about its feeding business. What does this mean? Well, as some of you may know, water quality is a serious issue all over the world, and we have felt these effects throughout Rhode Island, namely in the Narragansett Bay and it’s surrounding estuaries. When you have a plethora of oysters, they are able to improve water quality by filtering out the impurities that arrive in the water via nitrogen loads from failing septic systems, discharges from sewage treatment plants, and the overuse of fertilizers by farmers.
Not only do oysters help clean our waters, but oyster/shellfish beds “provide important ecosystem and economic services, such as providing food and habitat for birds, finfish and other marine life, sustenance and recreation for people who harvest wild oysters, and coastline protection from waves and storm surge” (source). The problem that we run into, particularly in Rhode Island, is that we no longer have a significant population of wild oysters. Back in the day, we have a sufficient amount, but due to pollution, over-fishing and the Hurricane of 1938, our waters no longer support wild oysters. Our sea bottom has actually changed from the rocky, hard bottom that oysters prefer to a soft, sandy bottom that is more ideal for quahogs.
However, there is still a large demand for these tasty morsels in the restaurant business, which brings about the boom of aquaculture. Aquaculture is essentially a farm in the ocean, where humans buy “seed” (very small baby oysters), placing them in various mesh bags or in particular areas of the Bay to let them grow for 18 months before they are able to be harvested. It’s quite sad that we are no longer able to sustain wild oyster populations, but I guess it’s still a step in the right direction that we can keep the populations alive. If you are interested in seeing a local aquaculture in person, head over to Matunuck Bay Oyster Bar and Perry, the owner, will you give a tour of his farm.
I am not aware if Rhode Island is planning to do anything about increasing wild oyster populations, but I recently read an article focusing on a Massachusetts restoration project where they plan to restore 5,000 acres of native shellfish beds by 2050 (here for more information). That I can support! I think that’s probably enough oyster information for one day, but if anyone is interested in learning more please let me know as I have done some extensive research on the subject. I would also recommend reading “Rhode Island’s Shellfish Heritage: An Ecological History” by local RI resident Sarah Schumann. It’s from 2015 and free copies are available at the URI Bay Campus if you feel so inclined.
On that note, enjoy your weekend! It’s starting to feel like spring so make sure you spend some time outside soaking up the rays of sunshine.