From Pond to Plate: Farming Oysters in Rhode Island
WLNE- Matunuck, RI
Rhode Island has some of the best waters for farming shellfish in the world. The work that goes into keeping it this way actually started decades ago. It’s a delicate balance of salt water, sediment and science. When the craving for shellfish hits, there’s no place like Rhode Island. However, local wild oysters are in big trouble. Wild oyster populations are at all time lows here and declining. Habitat loss and over-harvesting are the main reasons for the drop in wild populations. Over-harvesting wild oysters is easy to do since you don’t have to dig for them, they live on top of the silt and sand. The solution to the declining population problem is aquaculture – farming aquatic species and organisms. And no one farms big numbers of oysters like Matunuck Oyster Farm.
Perry Raso is the owner of the Matunuck Oyster Farm where they harvest around 700,000 to 800,000 per year. Their record is over a million oysters in a year. They also sell approximately 5.5 million seeds to other farmers. Yep. Baby oysters are called seeds. Individual oysters grow at different rates so they can take anywhere from 2-4 years to make it to your plate. Operating in the unique bodies of water along Rhode Island’s coast, each farm raises a variety of oysters, all with their own extraordinary tastes and characteristics. Since 2002, here on Potter Pond, Perry Raso has farmed Matunucks, known for their subtle brine and sweet finish.
As delicious as these bivalves are, they also provide many essential services for an ecosystem. Oysters provide shoreline protection, habitat for fish and crabs and most importantly, oysters filter the water. By cleaning the water, more sunlight can penetrate to boost photosynthesis of aquatic plants, helping to make a healthy ecosystem. Oysters simply make their environment better. And by farming oysters, we can make our shellfish experience ecologically sound with reduced waste. Another benefit of aquaculture is fresher shellfish! As oysters are harvested to order, it reduces the time from pond to plate.