Rolled and Tumbled ~ by Mason Silkes

The summer blues are upon us once again, and tumble tumble tumble we must. After planting out a record number of oysters this season we have little time to catch our breath before it is time to dive back in and tend to our crops. So as August brings with it the hottest weather we have seen all year, it also shifts us into fifth gear on the tumblers.

Heading out to tumble oysters at sunrise.

Heading out early ~photo credit Adam Silkes

With a strangely cold spring that held water temperatures along with growth rates aggravatingly low everything was pushed back. Our returned oysters were not showing their usual growth until June, and we were left high and dry without many market oysters through the springtime. This hurt us, but as the temps started to rise, the marine flora bloomed, the oysters filtered, the shells grew, the meats fattened the farmers smiled. Now we are bringing in palmed sized oysters with deep cups, and are hearing the praise from all the markets we serve.

Eider ducks picked our mussel ropes clean.

Mussel line picked clean by Eider ducks in 2014 ~photo credit Jack Moore

Although tragedy is more interesting than success, I feel it important to inform you that our mussel program finally succeeded in a steady crop of blue gold mussels through the summer. This was accomplished after years of getting snuffed out by ducks, weather, regulations, inexperience, and ducks. Did I mention eider ducks? Now that the ball is rolling we hope to steer our course the right direction, build off of our current momentum, and make farm raised Rhode Island mussels more plentiful than the boutique crop we are currently producing. It might be a concern that moving from a boutique crop to larger quantities will diminish the excellence of Blue Gold Mussels, but I have no fear that the quality will suffer. I believe that with more volume of mussels the quality will increase because more attention and time will be invested by the people at American Mussel who thrive on a steady supply of high grade mussels. Next year we hope to figure out the logistics of bringing a year round crop to market, and continue to improve our operations from there.

Mason drops a set of oysters in the tumbler.

Mason and the oyster tumbler ~ photo credit Jane Bugbee

On the oyster front it is the time to grind, and grind we must. With our new and improved (from last year) dual tumbler set up on the back of the FV Thomas D Royal we are set up to rip through our gear faster than ever. This means that we are tumbling the 2016 planted oysters, tumbling the returned oysters, and tumbling the stuff we are about to harvest (making it easier for the shore side harvesting crew). Improved efficiency of operations is always our goal, and working smarter not harder is our mantra. One example of this is changing the angle of the power washer nozzle by pointing it down, which keeps the large majority of the oysters in the cages as they go through the cleaning process, and allows us to move much faster. Prior to this we were losing 10-20 oysters from each set that would get tumbled, needing to gather them up off the deck, and jam them back in the trays. We realized the effect of losing that many oysters each day, and were looking at changing the whole design of the trays which would mean a lot of work and money. This relatively small change has saved us time, money, and oysters! Repeat after me in a slow chant “work smarter not harder. Work smarter not harder…”

Mussel seed covers a market buoy on our longline.

Mussel seed covers a yellow marker buoy ~photo credit Paula Quigley

I am consistently awestruck by the marine biology aspect of oyster farming; for example how do the mussels colonize so effectively on our oyster gear in a matter of 6 weeks? Why do the mussel larvae choose certain longlines to COVER in seed, and leave some without any mussels at all? It seems to me there is such a randomness to nature but I know it is heavily influenced by environmental conditions, like tides and currents. Nevertheless we are in a highly productive area of Narragansett Bay, and all the thriving organisms mean that it is a great place to grow our target species with plenty of food, and clean water. So we work on tumbling, getting our floating seed bags transferred to regular sets before the winter, getting all the long lines floated to the surface before the winter, and we continue to harvest daily to bring Quonset Point, Beavertail, and Umami Oysters to a market near you.

beaver resized

The Beaver Tail oyster ~photo credit Paula Quigley

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