Oyster Volunteers

More people are growing oysters these days, and that’s a good thing. Oysters can filter massive amounts of nitrogen from seawater. And with nitrogen a central focus of environmental protection efforts, the tenacious shellfish’s help is welcome. In New York Harbor, the Billion Oyster Project aims to use adult volunteer and student muscle to rebuild oyster reefs that once ringed the estuary. In East Hampton, the town trustees, after years of looking askance at any form of aquaculture, has now jumped on board. 

Since 2016, the trustees have supported the town shellfish hatchery effort to get the public involved in oyster growing. From a modest beginning in Three Mile Harbor with a handful of participants, the program expanded to Hog Creek and Accabonac Harbor, and now Napeague Harbor in 2019. A for-profit oyster-growing operation has been in Lake Montauk, which is not in trustee jurisdiction, for several years and is going strong, too. On the North Fork, the Southold Project in Aquaculture Training has been a success.

There is a delightful Johnny Appleseed quality to the oyster-farming boom. In East Hampton’s program, participants get 1,000 seed from the hatchery. They get to keep half the oysters that make it to edible size, with the other half distributed in public waters. Behind the scenes, or more accurately, underwater, the oysters, protected in cages, spawn each spring, with at least some spat surviving to grow naturally attached to rocks or other substrates to their liking. The proof of the concept is already here: “Wild” oysters can now be found in places where they had been missing for decades.

Unlike Suffolk officials who stumbled into a confrontation with residents of Amagansett and Lazy Point over the location of commercial oyster-growing plots in Gardiner’s Bay, the trustees have been careful in placing the recreational oyster plots where they will create the least disturbance. This is a terrific program, and we hope that many more people get involved.