First week of April, first week of oyster season 2023! The first days of on-the-water work of
the growing season are always the hardest, mostly thanks to gravity. All of my crop spends the winter on the sea floor instead of floating on the surface, since this is the best way to safely ensure the oysters' survival and the limit wear and tear on the gear that holds them through our cold, often icy and stormy winter conditions.
As spring sets in and daylight grows longer and stronger, the water starts to warm and the light triggers the return and growth of oyster food to the bay (phytoplankton - yay!) which in turn starts to wake the oysters up from their winter sleep. I watch and wait for the water to turn from it's steely winter gray to brilliant green, my favorite cue that growing season is fast approaching.
The first step in raising all those oysters off the bottom and bringing them back to the surface involves getting my floating system's longline rigging set back up between moorings to accept all the gear once flotation is reattached. Then, with some careful weather and tide timing and some patience, I pick a couple low tides to go out with the boat chock-a-block full of gear floatation and begin the slow, hard task to hauling everything back up and reattaching all those floats.
In an effort to bring as much gear ashore for the winter as possible so I can clean and fix things during the slow months, I usually consolidate or more densely stock the oysters in their winter gear than I would during the summer. I can get away with this because the oysters go through a period of dormancy when the water gets cold and the food leaves the bay in early winter, meaning I
don't need to worry about them overcrowding and starving each other. It's also nice to have a little more weight in the gear to help is stay put through winter weather. Consequently, things are h e a v y when they come up in the spring, and this year even more so due to a huge amount of some kind of brown slimy algae that rolled in and covered everything... oof. Next year I will go a little lighter on my winter stocking, I think, rather than risk the wear and tear on my body right at the start of the season that I experienced this year. 😅
Once up and floats reattached, the gear goes out and gets clipped back onto the longlines to await phase two of spring farm prep, which involves spreading all those heavily stocked oysters back out into growing season densities and clean gear. This part takes a lot longer than the two days of initial
floating, and so many jam-packed boat loads of clean and fixed up gear.
Through all of this I spend a good amount of time eagerly taking stock of how the oysters look coming out the winter and so far, so good! A lot can go wrong during the winter, from damage caused by sea ice or harsh weather, suffocation by silt that gets kicked up by waves and settles on the oysters, miscalculating the timing of sinking or raising, to just weird and unknown stressors that effect their ability to survive. Things look really good this year, though - lots of happy and alive baby oysters in particular, so that's a big yay. I think most farmers like me figure into their planning the possibility of losing some percentage of their crop to various things every year, so every time things go well it's a celebration.