August 24, 2019
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How ‘oyster condos’ helped save a Maine town’s shellfish legacy

Beth Brogan | BDN
Beth Brogan | BDN
Brunswick Marine Resources Officer and his son, Jesse Devereaux, pull oyster cages out of Maquoit Bay. About 15,000 oysters, cultivated over the past two years as part of an aquaculture pilot project by the town of Brunswick, will be available for Brunswick residents who have a shellfish license to harvest this weekend.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Two years after local clammers helped establish a pilot program designed to investigate alternative shellfish possibilities, Brunswick Marine Resources Officer Dan Devereaux on Aug. 24 scattered shovels of cultivated oysters into Mere Point Bay from a Carolina skiff.

Along with his son, Jesse Devereaux, the two navigated the boat through the intertidal zone near the Mere Point boat launch and then Simpson’s Point landing, taking turns scattering about 15,000 fully mature oysters into the bay.

The oysters, grown from seed planted in July 2015, are available to Brunswick residents holding a recreational shellfish harvesting license beginning at noon Friday. Along with softshell clams, quahogs and razor clams, residents can harvest 1 peck of shellfish per day, Devereaux said Tuesday.

For two years, Devereaux has worked with local harvesters and consultant Darcie Couture of Fair Winds Inc., to grow oysters using two methods — “flip bags” and floating “oyster condos” — to determine which is more successful.

The project, with funding from the town of Brunswick, was designed to explore alternative methods of aquaculture to allow lifelong harvesters to continue to earn a living despite a drastic decline in landings of softshell clams. Unable to make a living, even second- and third-generation clammers are looking for work elsewhere.

Devereaux declared the project a success. Following the growth rates of oysters in each environment, they determined that oysters in floating “oyster condos” — black, floating cages — grew faster.

“We estimated 18 to 20 months [for those] floating all the time, versus about 3½ years for the flip bags,” Devereaux said.

There are no plans to repeat the project. “It takes a lot of resources to manage one of these,” Devereaux said. But this weekend, Brunswick residents can reap the harvest of the original project.

Recreational shellfish licenses are available for $50 at the town clerk’s office. Licenses are free for those 62 and older, and children younger than 10 do not need a license.

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