Oyster Fishing in New England
Products in picture: Sailormade Hats.
When was the last time you had a “wild” caught oyster? Most likely, never. Oyster fishing is a rare hobby in modern day New England, and it's not for the faint of heart. The height of the oyster season runs from September through April. If you think the Atlantic is cold on the hottest day of summer, imagine wading in chest deep when the air has dipped below freezing. Bone-chilling temps aside, oyster fishing is actually pretty simple.
Where to find wild oysters:
Unlike clamming and other shellfishing in New England, there are no guides or maps that will point you in the direction of fresh, wild oysters waiting to be caught. Perhaps the whereabouts of these delicious mollusks is kept a secret on purpose.
Think about the raw bar menu at your favorite local restaurant. You'll see Cotuit oysters, Barnstable oysters, Glidden Point oysters, and so on (check out this guide for more). Though most of these oysters come from farms, their names indicate towns that provides the perfect habitat for the oysters to grow. When you pinpoint the location you want to check out, contact the Town Clerk.
Every town throughout New England has it’s own regulations and rules re: shellfishing. No matter where you go, you will have to invest in a shellfishing permit and respect said rules. Use the knowledge at the Town Clerk’s office to your advantage. Your best bet is to ask the officers, likely town locals, for the best spots to find growing oysters.
Another fact to keep in mind is that oysters thrive in brackish water. Brackish water is water that has more salinity, or salt, than freshwater but not as much as sea water. Typically, an estuary—the meeting point of a river and stream and the ocean—is the prime location for a brackish water habitat.
When you do come across an oyster bed, you will find they grow in clusters and attach themselves to other oyster shells, rocks, and boulders. You won't need special tools to remove the oyster from it’s connection, the strength of your gloved hands is totally sufficient.
You found your fishing hole, what gear do you need?
You don’t, by any means, need to get fancy with your oyster fishing gear. The most important consideration to keep in mind is that you are going to want to stay warm and dry, and be able to transport your abundant oyster findings back to shore. Here is my list of must haves and a couple of bonus items you might want to take with you:
- Waders. Go chest-height and lightweight.
- Diving Gloves. They are meant to be worn in the ocean so their thermal construction will keep your hands warm and, oh boy, will your hands get cold.
- Floating basket with leash. Keep it simple here, a kids beach pail will work as well as the next bucket. If you don’t want to carry the bucket with you, I’d recommend trying a rope around it and yourself and dragging it alongside next to you.
- Tape Measure. Each town has its own rules and regulations. This includes how large and mature an oyster must be to be removed from its habitat.
- A long handled clamming rake. Again, your hands are going to get cold! This rake will help you minimize the need to dip your hands into the water and aid in knocking oysters off of rocks.
- Polarized glasses. Sun or no sun, polarized glasses help you see through the water and spot oyster clusters.
Eating your oysters
If you’re interested in harvesting your own oysters, you'll need to know how to eat them. When you find them fresh, they will stay edible for up to two days in your refrigerator. Everyone has a favorite way to enjoy their oysters. Personally, we’re all about eating them raw with a fresh squeeze of lemon and a dash of horseradish.
If you have never shucked an oyster before, you’re going to want to start by purchasing your very own, Sailormade Shucker. While the oyster knife doesn't have a sharp blade, the force needed to twist open the shell, paired with the knife’s pointy tip could definitely end in disaster. Make sure you have a thick kitchen towel or oven mitt handy for protection.
Step 1: In your non-dominant hand, wrap the oyster in the towel, flat side up, cupped side down.
Step 2: Insert the tip of your oyster knife into the oyster's hinge, or point where the shells meet.
Step 3: Methodically dip the knife under the top shell and twist until the top shell pops away from the bottom.
Step 4: Holding the knife against the top shell, slowly work along the perimeter of the shell to detach the two pieces from one another. Be careful not to chop up the muscle of the oyster inside OR spill the juices of oyster.
Step 5: Lift the top shell off exposing the luxurious oyster meat below. Lightly bring the blade of the oyster shucker under the muscle to detach it from the shell for ease of eating.
Step 6: Enjoy!
If you have a plethora of oysters and you can’t possibly enjoy them all raw, consider one of our favorite recipes below:
On Wild vs. Farmed
Total props to you if you decide to venture out into the cold winter ocean and harvest oysters for pure enjoyment. It’s an awesome way to spend a Saturday morning in February. If you aren’t by the coast, or you aren't that devoted to fresh oysters, don’t fret. Unlike so many unsustainable farming practices we're hearing about these days, shellfish farming is actually widely sustainable, produces a very high quality oyster, and improves ecosystems.
Farming oysters can be traced back to 1st century BC along the Italian peninsula so we’ve had years to optimize the process. Oysters actually filter the water in which they reside, removing nitrogen and phosphorous, two pollutants, from seawater. Their nutrient rich habitat adds so much to the ecosystem and helps other species to prosper. These facts don’t change whether they are raised in a controlled or wild environment.
So, my final words on oysters: EAT MORE OF THEM.
Products in picture: Sailormade Hats in Blue and White, Catch Double Wrap Rope Bracelet in Navy.