2015-09-04 / Front Page

Oyster companies seek small expansions

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH – The Department of Marine Resources will hold a public hearing in Scarborough town hall in mid-September as part of an application review for two oyster companies looking to expand operations in Pine Point.

The hearing for Nonesuch Oyster, run by Abigail Carroll, of Biddeford, will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15. It will befollowedbya7p.m.publichearing for Pine Point Oysters, an outfit run by Cape Elizabeth resident Nate Perry. Each will be seeking a standard 10-year aquaculture lease to operate just west of the Little Split of the Scarborough River. Approximately a few hundred feet separate the two operations. Both Perry and Carroll started the process to obtain a more permanent lease to operate in Scarborough more than two years ago

“Both these folks have experimental leases in this area that they have been operating with. They can’t renew those,” said Diantha Robinson, the Department of Marine Resources’ aquaculture hearing officer. “They have both had success at the site and they want to keep going so they have applied for standard leases.”

Robinson, who will be conducting the public hearings, said the hearings are more judicatory than typical public hearings, such as the ones held at Town Council or Board of Education meetings. Those who speak at the meeting, she said, will be officially sworn in before giving their testimony.

“Once the hearings are over, we will review all the information we receive and draft a decision,” Robinson said. The decision whether to approve the standard lease requests will be based on the impact of the lease on shore access, navigation, fishing, ecology and other uses for the area.

The Department of Marine Resources will accept signed written correspondence regarding the applications until Sept. 15 at 5 p.m.

The draft decision is supposed to be returned within four months of the hearings, but Robinson said the timeline is partially contingent on the amount of information from the testimonies and written correspondence and how much other work the department has at the time.

“We are so backed up with work, they have been taking longer than that. I hope these won’t, but we are just buried,” Robinson said.

Perry started Pine Point Oysters in 2009 after previously operating an oyster operation in Cumberland. His plan, if his application is successful, is to expand his operation slightly.

“I was searching for a good site to use and Cumberland was working, but I was looking for something that would be protected,” Perry said about coming to Scarborough. “It’s hard to find a space where you are protected, you got growth conditions and where can operate and not make too much of an impact.”

Carroll, who started Nonesuch Oysters in 2010, agrees.

“It’s hard to find a place to put an aquaculture farm. You need good subtidal waters and pristine water quality,” Carroll said this week.

Eventually she landed on Pine Point in Scarborough, a place where she has been operating ever since.

“There was a willingness here. We met with the harbormaster. He seemed game. We talked to the shellfish commission and they signed off,” Carroll said.

Both Perry and Carroll are operating with experimental licenses, which are given out to individuals who are interested in seeing if a particular area would be productive for oyster cultivation.

As it turns out, the area and its brackish waters has been productive for both oyster enterprises.

“It’s a productive area. My business is doing well in terms of getting oysters out and providing them on the local scene. That’s my aim. My goal is not flooding the Chinese market or New York City market,” Perry said.

Pine Point Oysters, Perry said, can be found locally in such Portland restaurants as Eventide, Fore Street, Street and Co., Petit Jacqueline. Similarly Nonesuch Oysters can be found locally, including at Ken’s Restaurant and Bayley’s Lobster Pound in Scarborough. Some of Carroll’s oysters have also been sold at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City.

Like most oyster farmers, Carroll and Perry are cultivating crassostrea viginica oysters. The oyster, also known as Eastern or American oyster, is indigenous to the East Coast.

“With very few exceptions, everybody up and down the east coast is growing the same oyster. What makes them different is the terroir,” Carroll said, explaining terroir, a term borrowed from the wine industry, as the environmental factors that give a product a certain taste or characteristic.

Cultivating an oyster to be ready for public sale is no easy task, Carroll said. It can take between two and three years. For Nonesuch Oysters, it is a three-step process. It starts with growing seeds in an underwater nursery by the town pier at Pine Point. Once they are about an inch long, they are transferred to floating bins in the river before being dropped in the bottom of the river to continue to grow free-range.

“The difficulty of an oyster farmer is, there is a lot invested before you can reap the bounty,” Carroll said.

After a series of tough winters that hindered oyster productivity, Carroll is optimistic about the future.

“There have been a lot of issues pop up with the farming, but we have met a lot of great people. I think we are finally turning the corner which is exciting,” she said.

If granted the standard license, Carroll said she would like to evolve into a yearround operation. Nonesuch Oyster’s best harvest so far came in 2013, when 100,000 oysters were sold.

“It would be nice to be a farm that can harvest year-round, even if it is reduced quantity in the winter,” she said.

Her vision, however, is about more than just oyster cultivation. Since last year, Carroll has offered oyster tours. The tours are by appointment, last roughly 60 to 90 minutes and leave from the town pier in Pine Point.

“It’s a really nice opportunity to not just educate people, but also hear what people think about oysters,” she said.

Aside from educating through tours, over the years Carroll has employed a dozen interns from the University of New England’s aquaculture program, as well as environmental studies students from Bowdoin and Colby colleges.

“We want to continue to be a nice boutique oyster farm that is about the community and education,” Carroll said.

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