Flying Drones used to Scare Nuisance Ducks away from Mussel Farm

Setting out the Mussel Seed Collection Rope

Setting out Mussel Seed Collection Rope ~ Photo credit: Adam Silkes

2016 has been a busy year so far! With all the gear work squared away, and the winter dwindling away it is time to hit the water again, and prepare the farms for the spring. That restless feeling when the mercury hits 60 degrees, the clocks shift, the southwest winds combat the northerly breezes and eventually beat them out. Spring is in the air!

In our ever present war against the eider ducks we are gaining ground. This winter we planted mussels that were not decimated completely. We experimented with a few different tactics around the New Year that helped us understand a little more about our enemy, and plan for their behaviors.  Our successful endeavor was out in front of Newport where the water is about 70 feet deep; we were able to plant out the mussel socks, and then float the entire longline 40 feet below the surface. As of yet it looks as though the ducks have not found, or are not willing to dive that deep for a meal.

Mussel seed rope picked clean by Eider ducks

Mussel Rope Picked Clean by Eider Ducks ~ Photo credit: Jack Moore

At the inshore site the New Year planting was picked clean off the ropes by the flock of eiders that reside there in the winter. We are still pushing in a classic case of man v nature and planted four remaining lines just last week under the watchful eyes of ole’ king eider. It may have been hasty, but we are thinking that the warm temperatures will drive these vagabonds north, and our innocent mussels will have time to mature before the summer.



What lives in the water, but can fly with the birds

Cries like an eagle sometimes, but can change what you’ve heard

It is powered by the sun, the pyrotechnics cause alarm

Not a companion of the ducks, but it lives on our farm?


A pair of eider ducks

A Pair of Eider Ducks ~ Photo credit:

The answer is an un-invented, computer aged, fancy shmancy scarecrow! A meeting of the minds up in Woods Hole, Massachusetts discussed robotics and aquaculture and the different applications of automated systems that could make marine farming easier. Out of that there is a grant proposal that we are involved with to create a kayak type of drone that stays at the farm to keep the ducks from landing, and feeding on our crops. It is very exciting to have such experts working on a problem for us. The team consists of duck specialists, MIT engineers, WHOI scientists, and us…. All-star squad?!?!?

Now back to the spring. The water temperatures in the bay are still in the lower 40s meaning there is not a lot of new oyster growth yet. We are planning on hauling the Thomas D. Royal out of the water and doing some yearly maintenance, and upgrades. The upgrades will pertain to the hydraulic and electrical systems making the boat more efficient, and functional. After the short haul, only two weeks, it will be on to planting oysters again, tumbling oysters with our new and improved tumblers, and all the other little things that make a farm run smoothly (if that’s possible!).

The Umami Oyster

The Umami Oyster ~ Photo Credit: Paula Quigley

In the mean time grab some of our Umami oysters; it’s the only cocktail oyster in RI! Although I am not a foodie, pair it with some Champagne or another bubbly wine; have a small sip of bubbly, eat the oyster, chew, swish it all around then, gulp it down. Or, another recipe from one of the more creative chefs I know, Jorge,  for oyster ceviche; shuck a dozen into a bowl, squeeze two limes on top of them, little bit of jalapeno (to taste), chopped red onion and cilantro. Let it all sit for 10 minutes, and serve back on the half shell.

~ Mason Silkes

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