Putting oysters to bed
A complicated choreography protects a simple creature
Oysters hibernate. The question is, where?
Most oystermen and women on the flats answer that question with a lot of hard work. They cruise hard-pack sand in trucks at low tide, load pickup beds with bags full of maturing product, yank out rebar racks so the flats are reduced to a natural contour, and ferry their oysters away from the threat of tidal winter ice that can mangle gear and crunch animals.
Some winters everything would stay just fine, the hard work wouldn’t be necessary. But when unpredictable ice comes in, it wreaks havoc. That’s a risk most think isn’t worth taking.
Bringing in oysters, as with any transplant, has risks as well. The idea is to get them into a quiet, protected place, in the old days a cellar hole covered with seaweed, these days maybe a dark basement with a cooling element set at 40 degrees. The animals stop feeding, stop filtering, and of course stop growing. Close the bulkhead, check them now and then, and if all goes well there will be little mortality when the time comes to reverse the process, get them back out to their version of woken up as the threat of ice recedes.
John Connors, who has worked a shared grant on the Wellfleet flats at Indian Neck going on 30 years, whose son Greg is a well-respected captain fishing offshore from Chatham, pulled together crew, family, and friends to clear the grant on a grey late-December morning. Multiple trips, passing a dozen teams doing the same, wasn’t easy work but many hands and strong backs got it done on one tide.
Being part of the end-of-season choreography, participating in one of many complicated challenges that go into what you might assume is the simple act of raising oysters, doesn’t necessarily make them taste better.
But it might.
Many Wellfleet growers took advantage of a low mid-day tide in late December to move product out of harm’s way.
Larry Franke, left, freeing up bags from rebar racks.
John Connors makes sure no passengers jump off during the trip home.
Fred Richard from Wellfleet offloading the pickup, with Jeff Shortis from Chatham.
John’s grandson, Jeff and Jennifer’s son John Shortis, helps out during college break.
An improvised slide into a cool basement.
One by one, bags make the slide.
Tucked in, sweet dreams, see you in a few months.
These big guys went dormant in previous years, and resurrected just fine.
NEXT: HEARING ABOUT A VETERAN’S RETURN TO HIS CAPE COD MILITARY BASE, THANKS TO WCAI.
Haven’t subscribed yet? Here’s hoping you’ll support this Voice, and here’s how: