American Mussel Harvesters
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Spring 2019 On The Farm

Authored by Jane Bugbee
July 3, 2019

What is new with the Salt Water crew?

In the best of times we are oyster farmers. Lately, I have been a mechanic down in the engine room dealing with hard to reach nuts, metal piping that seems to disappear into nowhere, and a fried starter that threw a wrench into my busy schedule. My stomach dropped when I tried turning the key and heard a click instead of the Caterpillar diesel engine come to life. I then realized that my whole day/week/capacity to do anything on the oyster farm is tied to that engine running; jammed up. On the other side of the coin, it is a unique type of appreciation that you get when your engine fires back up after not working for little while and you can finally run your boat, almost nostalgic like a friend has returned. That’s the way it goes when you wear the rubber clothes!

Good thing for old Ahab who came in and figured out how to fix the issues that needed fixing. After some clever pipe bending and starter mending, the Thomas D. Royal is back in action with only a short breakdown. It’s a good thing because oyster farming waits for no man.

This spring we are transferring the over wintered oysters from the “condos” into normal sets, which is very dirty work, but at least the oysters love it. In all the years prior, we waited to plant oysters until the seed came in from the nursery, and when it did, we dropped everything and put all our effort into planting. Last summer we were able to plant a bunch of smaller seed later in the season using a different gear type. Now we are thinning them out and planting them as the water warms up. This gives us a jump on the growing season and lets us work at our own pace in the early season to get oysters planted.

We are also using two boats to our advantage to clean out the over wintered gear which is proving to be a great advantage for the oyster growth, for handling the sets, and for keeping them afloat in the water. The biofouling really has a chance to take over in the winter and early spring which severely inhibits the water flowing to the oysters, negatively affecting the filter feeder’s ability to grow. Our recipe for an absolutely clean set is to hot dip it for 30 seconds in 150-degree F water, then put it back into the bay to recover. After a month we come back and the cage is covered in dead fouling (baby mussels, tunicates, sea sponges…), we run it through the tumbler, and it shakes up the oysters and power washes all the junk out of the set. Repeat this a couple thousand times and the whole farm is cleaned up and ready to grow all summer long! Add the new seed being planted in June and July and hope for the biggest year of oyster harvests to date.

How do we keep track of all the lines and what oysters are on each one?

It can get very complicated especially when dealing with two sites, two boats, and two captains all doing separate things, but with the program Oyster Tracker we can keep track of the farming activities of each boat in a single location on the cloud. This ap lays out the oyster farm in an easy to navigate way where you can easily see where the shellfish are and track the progression of the oysters over time as you plant, tumble, hot dip, sort, harvest, return and repeat. We have been waiting for a tracking program like this for several years and believe Oyster Tracker will make our operation that much more organized, which will allow us to grow better quality and larger quantities of oysters. It also lets us track survival, growth rates, and several other parameters I haven’t really discovered yet. So, thanks to Chip and the team over at Oyster Tracker for bringing us into the 21st century and the tech world.

All we need now is a robot to do the dirty work, an electric eye to grade and count the pieces, and R2-D2 to keep the boat running smoothly; then I can be a full time slipper skipper (one who wears slippers while running the boat from the captain’s chair). The possibilities are endless with the tech industry and I think the early adopters of new technologies will have an advantage as the world becomes increasingly automated.