Our oysters first meet the waters of Maquoit and Mere Point Bays when they are just a couple weeks old and only 2mm long – about the size of the end of a felt-tipped pen. Each spring, these “seed” oysters arrive in bags from Mook Seafood’s hatchery in Walpole, Maine. The bags are marked “Handle with Care” as these tiny oysters are very fragile. We carefully spread these babies out onto small floating nursery trays made with extra fine 500-micron mesh. A fat grain of sand can’t even fit through that. We flip the trays every day to help keep other plants and animals from growing on them. In a couple weeks, they will have tripled in size and will be as big as a pencil eraser.
Once those babies are big enough, they are ready to leave the nursery and grow out in the Bay. We sort them using a 1/4’” mesh tray to see which ones have grown enough to leave the nursery. Then, they’re put into fine mesh bags suspended from floats on the surface at one of our lease sites. Once they’re in these bags, they really start to grow!
Over the summer, our oysters will start to get a little crowded. We give them more room to grow by splitting them into more bags. Each time we sort them, we check on their health and measure their growth rate. We also tumble them in our solar-powered tumbler to brake off extra bits of shell around the edges. This helps the oyster focus on growing its soft delicious body rather than its shell, and shapes it into a nice deep cup perfect for slurping. This happens several times over the summer.
By November, our babies are about the size of a quarter at 1 inch or so. But, they’ve still got at least another year of growth before reaching market size. The waters in our bays are getting a bit chilly and our oysters are slowing down their growth. It’s time to put our oysters to bed for the winter. Here’s why the floating cages are pretty cool. We can sink them to the bottom for the winter where the temperature will be more constant and they won’t get beat-up by the sea ice and winter storms. They’ll stay there until next spring. Before we do that, we tumble them and separate them into the densities we want for harvesting.
Once spring comes around again, we haul up the cages and make observations about their survival over the winter. They’re still not ready for harvest, but some of them may be by early fall. We hang them up on the floats again where they will get plenty of cool, clear water circulating by them for feeding. And, we put some of them in Seapa bags – neat, cylindrical bags that hang down from a line between our cages. These get more constant water action, which breaks the shell edges off and helps them grow a deeper cup. And, of course, we’ll be getting more seed to start the next generation.
At the end of two years, some of our petit oysters are ready to be harvested. These measure about 2 ½ “ in size. We leave some a bit longer to read the select size – around 3”. To harvest them, we bring the cages to our float where we wash them and tumble them with fresh seawater. We sort them by hand at this point, grading them by quality. We only select the top 40% to be branded Mere Point Oysters. Then, we wash them again at the shore at our barn before bagging them up to bring to you.