How To Shellfish
Being a “Shellfish farmer” is very misunderstood throughout the general public. People have heard the term fisherman, but what was this shell all about? Are they gatherers, or hunters? Rather shellfisherman are farmers in the rawest form.
It all begins with the seed, which if you are harvesting clams or oysters differs slightly in size. But think of it as 1,000 clams fitting into one small film canister- the kind you used to get before everyone went digital. These seeds come from hatcheries, which are run by scientists who have to carefully nurture the seed in tanks 24/7 to yield enough to then sell to the grower. After purchasing the seed the shellfisherman then take the tiny clams and use a very fine mesh net to slowly grow the clams on the tidal flats. With the hopes that sea worms, natural diseases, crabs and moonsnails don’t snatch up your seed- the clams will grow and you can then transfer them to a larger mesh where they will simply feed off the water’s plentiful micro organisms and grow themselves. In about 2 to 3 years you will have your clam, which you will find underneath the sand with a basket rake.
Now with an oyster the growing process is a little more difficult and the animal is more fragile, thus reflecting in the higher price per oyster over a clam. Because an oyster does not have a “foot” that digs itself into the mud they simply filter water on the mud’s surface all day long. You may see an oyster lying on the sand more often than a clam because clams live under the sand. For the farmer to raise an oyster there are a few different techniques but all have the same essence. You take the baby oysters and put them into a very small mesh bag, which hangs in the water above the sand not touching the sand. They are able to filter the water throughout high tide inside the bags and this makes it easy for shellfisherman to transfer them into larger nets and harvest them.
When they release their spat and reproduce they cling onto other objects for safety. Oysters love to stick themselves to other surfaces and even to other oysters. This is why you need to “cull” or separate oysters from each other before you can sell them individually at market. There are many different types of shellfish, but for many shellfishing means buying seed, planting it and harvesting your crop. It takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of forgiveness from nature’s wrath to sell that clam for between .18 and .23 cents a piece in two to three years.