The Fishing Life: Diving into aquaculture

Alex Whitebrook/ April 13, 2018/ News/ 0 comments

Craig Poosikian, a long-time fisherman, started his aquaculture grant about a year and a half ago, and he is hooked.

“A lot of people will tell you … that an oyster grant is a lot of work. It is a lot of work. That it’s tiring. It is tiring. That it’s frustrating. It is frustrating. But I am pretty excited about it,” said Poosikian, the owner and operator of BHG (Big Hairy Guy) Oyster Farm at Boat Meadow Creek, Eastham.

He is concentrating on petite oysters, which are smaller, two and a half inches instead of three, and recently approved for in-state sale by oyster farmers by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

The littler oysters work for him because he can get to harvest faster, skip a growing season, which translates into money. He can get 50 cents for the smaller oyster, but only 55 if he waits another year.

“I’d rather get them in and get them out,” the Orleans resident said. “The best oyster is a sold oyster.”

Poosikian is one of a growing number of people who have gotten into aquaculture.

The industry in Massachusetts grew from $6.5 million in 2011 to $23.2 million in 2016. And there is no sign that demand for aquaculture grants is slowing down; there are 60 people on the waiting list in Eastham alone.

The vast majority of those grants, 94 percent, are for oysters, which is of concern to some managers and researchers, including Joshua Reitsma, of Woods Hole SeaGrant.

Reitsma said reliance on oysters makes sense because oysters are a proven economic commodity. But, he added, it’s not wise to have the state of the industry hinge on one bivalve.

Oversaturating the market is a risk, as is disease.

“Having all your eggs in that basket is a little scary,” he said.

Those worries prompted Reitsma, and others including the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, to try other aquaculture possibilities. They considered razor clams, which can be a lucrative wild fishery, but those clams can swim and it’s a tad difficult to farm a moving crop.

So they have been taking a hard look at butter clams, which are juvenile surf clams.

“Surf clams are the giant clams you find on the beach,” he said. “People use the shells for ashtrays.”

There is a successful surf clam fishery, in which the clam needs to be five inches to be harvested, just off the Cape’s shores.

Butter clams are only 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches and research has shown that consumers love them. They taste a lot like steamers, Reitsma said.

“They have a lot of market potential; there is a lot of promise there,” he said.

Butter clams are being grown in four pilot areas on the Cape to see how they would fare. Early results are promising.

Interest in broadening the Cape’s contribution to the clam market is part of a larger effort involving the Fishermen’s Alliance. Partnering with the Nature Conservancy, Mass. Aquaculture Association, Mass DMF, and Umass/Boston, the non-profit has embarked on the Massachusetts Shellfish Initiative.

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