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Things have really been cranking away out on the sea farm lately! The water is warm warm

This year's fresh new baby ones! 3mm in size and growing already.

warm, the oysters are growing like crazy, and so is everything else that likes to cling to the gear and needs to be dealt with. Last week I also got the call to come scoop up this year's batch of 150,000 oyster seed, so I've been spending time lately getting them comfortably situated on the farm too, and watching to make sure they are adjusting okay. The seed process is relatively easy to get started. Once obtaining my bundle from the hatchery crew, who packages them up carefully so they stay damp and cool for the trip out out to the farm, I just zip them out as quickly as I can and get them evenly divided out onto the fine mesh inserts that they will start out in so they can safely go into a floating bag on the farm without escaping. In no time (2 weeks, usually) these 3mm diameter babies will have grown enough that I will be ready to spend some time grading out the biggest of them and upgrading them into the smallest mesh floating bag I have. From there, it's off to the races!

A snap shot of last year's seed oysters, some of which are now huge while others are not.

I've also been doing lots of tending of the juvenile oysters on the farm, which were last year's seed oysters and will be this winter's harvest. These guys make up the biggest part of the farm stock at the moment, volume wise, and as such they require the most amount of tending just to keep all that gear clean with occasional air drying and bag shaking to knock of some of their newest growth so they don't get too big to fast and develop nice shells. The lot ranges quite a lot in size, from 2 inches at the biggest end to less than an inch in the smaller grades. This is pretty normal for a given oyster class, and the best thing to do for all of them to just keep grading as we go and grouping like sizes with like sizes. I'll be pulling off the biggest of this year class for harvest before the year is out!I've also been spending some time doing one of my all-time favorite oyster farming activities lately - snorkeling for bottom planted oysters! These guys aren't technically wild specimens,

Freshly snorkel-harvested bottom dwellers

because I intentionally scattered them here and there on the bottom of my lease at some point in time. I do this sometimes if I've run out of gear to house my entire crop in, or if I've reached close to the end of a harvesting through a year class to find some amount of runty slow growers that are just taking too long to size up for me to invest anymore time or gear into taking care of. I set them free on the parts of the lease that have a firmer bottom (soft soupy mud is liable to suffocate them), and I leave them be for six months or a year before circling back to them and picking up the ones that are big enough to go to market either by walking or snorkeling around at low tide and hand-picking them. These oysters look remarkably different than the ones that come out of surface culture - contact with the benthic zone and the bottom substrate causes them to take on some stunning green hues in their shells, as well as some barnacle friends and other critters who like to attach to things on the bottom. They tend to grow some really hefty thick shells which makes them nice for shucking, and their meats are also often a big firmer and chewier and a bit different in flavor just due to the different kinds of food sources they have access to down on the bottom. There will be more of these beauties to come this summer!

It's suddenly been feeling like summer out here this week, although from the looks of the

Moby approves of the new shell growth we're starting to see on the oysters!

substantial amount of new shell growth on the oysters, they've been feeling it for a while longer than I have. Casco Bay has been warming up fast, and for the last month and half or so I've been focused on making sure the farm is good and ready for how much these babies are going to gain in size over the next 4-5 months.

This prep mostly consists of spreading my crop out as evenly and thinly as I can, getting every last grow out bag back into the water. The oysters (especially last year's seed) get dispersed into those bags at as small a volume as possible leaving them as much room as possible to grow into. This ensures that they will have ample access to their food supply as it floats on by, as well as plenty of room to move

Gear air-dries on a calm sunny day to help managing fouling.

and tumble around, which helps them to develop nice round, strong, even shells.

I aim to have all this prep done with before this year's crop of seed is ready to be picked up, which is usually sometime between now and the end of June, a goal which I am well on track for this year. Once the babies join the farm, they will require a lot of tending and grading and attention, so it's nice if the bigger oysters can just do their thing without needing a lot from me.

The other task that's back in the regular routine is air-drying! The oysters aren't the only thing that's starting to grow like crazy now that the bay is warming up. All of the fouling organisms are also back in growth mode - the algae, tunicates, barnacles, mussels, and squirts are also making their homes in and on my gear so regularly flipping bags up to air dry becomes an important means of keeping the oysters and their gear clean.

a rouge beast of an oyster I found while doing some low tide mooring inspections! Maybe 6 or 7 years old?

Here we go! Despite the wind being less than cooperative, extra low new moon tides on this

Freshened- up buoys ready to head out first

second week of April meant it was time to rock and roll toward getting the 2024 oyster season up and running, and three long days later, the oysters are floating once more!

There's a little bit of hurry up and wait that happens when planning for this first season start. It really is so much easier with my current set up if I can time my oyster raising days with the lowest tides possible, and since I want to be sure that I'm ready to really go when those tide days come around, I tend to front load my gear prep for this first stage a little earlier than I need to.

First to go out are the bigger summer buoys with their fresh paint and reflective material to replace the slimy, smaller winter ones. Then I prep my long line rigging systems and spreader bars for my floating arrays,

Hooking up longline systems and spreaders right before raising oysters.

which are reinstalled right before the first round of oysters come up (so they have somewhere to attach to once floating!) Then, one by one I haul my way by hand along each line of sunken gear, reattaching floats to each bag of oysters as it comes back into the boat and then hook it up to the fresh new floating rigging.

It's not a fast or easy process, but it's simple and works well enough for me and allows for me to check on things and see how they fared through the winter piece by piece. And so far so good! Looks like lots of happy oysters coming out of winter hibernation mode. Next up: many, many loads of clean, empty, mended gear to spread the oysters out into in preparation for warming waters and the first signs of growth.

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