Southampton Town Trustees back SOAR – Supporting Oyster and Aquaculture Restoration.
“The fact that 80% of the seafood in this country was consumed in restaurants pre-COVID meant that everybody took a huge hit,” according to the Maine Aquaculture Association. The fact that 90% of oysters were consumed in restaurants caused an even larger hit for oyster farmers up and down the East Coast.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of The Pew Charitable Trust and The Nature Conservancy, and the realization that struggling oyster farmers could be assisted economically while also benefitting the marine environment, there is an extremely successful restoration program in the midst of COVID. Sometimes there is a silver lining….
Oysters have a desirable, marketable size. Consumers do not look favorably upon large “ugly” oysters. This proved a challenge for oyster growers left with copious amounts of product that was not fit for the restaurant half shell market as restaurants began to re-open last year.
Enter The Nature Conservancy and The Pew Charitable Trust, working together to purchase the oversized bivalves from oyster farmers, providing much needed income over the fall, winter and spring months of 2020 and 2021 (and hopefully beyond) for small scale farmers whose markets had dried up due to COVID. These oysters were placed on reefs to aid in restoration efforts, providing habitat for wild finfish and crustaceans, aiding in nutrient uptake, and increasing coastal resiliency through the buffering effects of reefs.
SOAR — Supporting Oyster and Aquaculture Restoration — is a two-year, two million-dollar program that has benefited eleven local growers on Long Island by providing direct payments to farmers to purchase oysters that will be used in restoration. Working on the East Coast and in the Pacific Northwest to continue conservation despite COVID, the collaborative efforts have also been beneficial close to home.
Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook Southampton University presented at a Southampton Town Trustees Meeting in late fall, and introduced this initiative which would benefit not only local oyster farmers, but also oyster reefs in Shinnecock Bay. Over the course of the winter and spring 2021, thanks to the efforts of many, thousands of oysters were placed in Shinnecock Bay. Oyster restoration — SOARing across Shinnecock!
Photography: Monkman (nature.org)