Chesapeake Bay Oysters Farming

July 2013
Elnicki Wade

Imagine tying up the boat on a hot August afternoon and grabbing a seat at your favorite dock bar. With a frosty drink in hand, you think about the cool pleasure of a dozen fresh oysters. You picture them nestled in their shells on a silver tray with crushed ice circled around a tiny dish of cocktail sauce. You almost smell the sprits of squeezed lemon but then you remember the saying, "Only eat oysters in months with the letter R!" Fortunately times have changed, and that old wives' tale doesn't really apply anymore. Fresh local oysters are available all year round thanks to new aquafarms that are spreading around the Chesapeake shores and breathing life into the old oyster industry.

A Paradise Lost

The wild Chesapeake Oysters was such a prolific creature that its massive reefs were navigation hazards for early explorers. Its sweet-briny flavor was an irresistible delicacy for seafood lovers around the globe.

In the heyday year of 1884, Maryland and Virginia watermen pulled in 15 million bushels of Chesapeake oysters. Some used long tongs to pluck them from the water. Others dredged the bay bottom with sharp metal baskets that scraped up everything in their path, wreaking havoc on the habitat and leaving lifeless mud in their wake.

The supply seemed endless, and the Bay appeared indestructible, but the ill-fated native oysters couldn't reproduce fast enough to compete with human consumption and gluttonous overfishing. Along came MSX and Dermo, a pair of plague-like diseases that killed millions of oysters, and the 2010 harvest plummeted to 185,245 bushels.Industrial and agricultural pollution also had their way with the Bay's wild oysters. After almost 99% of the Chesapeake oyster population was depleted, the endangered bivalve cried uncle. Government agencies and environmental groups put limits on fishing, created sanctuaries, and went after polluters, but the future of the Bay and its precious oysters was looking pretty bleak.

Hunters and Gatherers Become Farmers

A ray of hope has come from a collaboration of watermen, marine biologists, and entrepreneurs determined to save the Bay's bivalves by thinking outside the box and bucking tradition. In the 1990s, this group started developing a new method of raising oysters, which aimed to protect them and replenish their numbers ”  even if it means wild oysters have to live in cages. That's right cages.

This innovative concept is called aquaculture. Here's how it works. Rather than relying on the benevolence of Mother Nature to create favorable conditions for oysters, aquafarmers integrate science and technology into the mix. Very little is left to chance.The process begins in hatcheries, such as Horn Point Lab in Maryland and J.C. Walker Brothers in Virginia. Fertilized eggs are placed in a customized cocktail of algae and water to provide the nutrients oysters need to grow. The microscopic oyster babies swim around for two to three weeks until they're ready to move into nurseries where they continue to eat and mature. At this point, they are so small that 500 can fit in the palm of your hand.In some labs, crossbreeding takes place to create select types of oysters. For example, triploid oysters are engineered with three sets of chromosomes that leave them sterile. Without the worries of reproduction, triploids can focus all their attention on growing. Since you don't want to eat oysters during their breeding period, this genetic alteration makes them available in restaurants any time of the year.

When infant oysters, called spats, develop a gluey foot, they attach to hard surfaces like old shells or rocks. Then they're ready to head out into the water, and the magic of aquaculture starts to unfold. Instead of following the traditional method of dumping vulnerable spats into the Bay and praying they'll survive, aquafarmers provide recycled shells where oysters can take hold and place them into floating cages about the size of a coffee table. These safe cages or floats will be home until they're full grown. They float on the water, chained together in rows and hooked up to docks.

Why cages rather than free-ranging? They protect fledgling oysters from predators such as crabs, stingrays, and human poachers who are notorious for raiding protected reefs and oyster sanctuaries. Plus, aquafarmers can move the cages around to make sure they get the right amount of clean water and algae and avoid areas that are polluted or prone to disease. And farmers can take their oysters on flatbed trucks for field trips to the ocean's salty waters to increase their salinity and flavor.

A Bushel Full of Benefits

Wild oysters take two to three years to grow to the regulation three-inch market size. Aquaculture oysters only need 12 to 18 months, and they're available year round. And because they're spawned from native Chesapeake oysters, watermen don't need to import disease-resistant foreign species that could cause problems for the ecosystem.

The Bay's water quality is also reaping big rewards, because aquafarming is escalating the oyster population. In 2010, Virginia planted 76.6 million oysters in Chesapeake waters. Three oysters can clean 165 gallons of water every day that's enough to fill three whiskey barrels. Imagine what millions more of them can do.Virginia, which embraced aquaculture years before Maryland, is already seeing economic perks from this new way of producing oysters. Commonwealth hatcheries sold 2 billion oyster larvae for spat-on-shell production in 2012, according to a report by the Shellfish Growers of Virginia. About 28.1 million market-sized Virginia-farmed oysters were sold in 2012, generating $9.5 million.

With so much to gain from oyster aquaculture, one of the few remaining obstacles is acceptance of change. Generations of watermen have earned a living by tonging or dredging oysters from their boats. Converting them to this new mode of business will take some time and positive results.If you would like to visit an aquafarm along the Bay, check out the resources below. If you call in advance, most aquafarmers are pleased to show off their facilities and maybe let you sample a few oysters pulled fresh from the water.

Oyster Aqua Farm Resources

Do you want to learn more about Chesapeake Bay aquaculture or even start an oyster garden on your own dock? Then take a look at the following sites:

East Coast Shellfish Growers Association (732-349-1152, Represents 1,000 shellfish farmers from Maine to Florida and offers info about legislation, regulation and the latest research in the field.

Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources Shellfish Aquaculture Program (877-620-8367, Get the latest news about the state's oyster restoration efforts, aquafarmingpermits, and places to pick up your own oyster cage.

Maryland Seafood ( In addition to a list of licensed oyster aquaculture facilities operating in Maryland, you can get info about Chesapeake oyster history, recipes and events.

Marylanders Grow Oysters ( 410-260-8052, Launched in 2008, this program helps volunteers grow oysters in floats from their home piers and brings them to sanctuaries to increase the population.

Oyster Recovery Partnership (410-990-4970, Since it was established 20 years ago, ORP recycled 1,200 tons of shells that volunteers collected from local restaurants, festivals and markets, and planted almost 4 billion oysters in the Bay. It's a great place to get involved in oyster restoration efforts.

Oysters for the Bay (410-822-9143, This busy environmental group helps people and communities grow their own oyster gardens to help heal the Bay.

Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association (804-694-4407, If you want to start a big or small oyster farm, this site tells you where to get spat, equipment and instructions, and how to get in contact with other gardeners.

Virginia Aquaculture Oyster Growers Association (757-874-3474, The go-to site for Virginia's oyster aquaculture, including a list of commercial growers, restaurants, and retail stores plus a map of oyster flavors by region of the Bay.

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Battle of the Crustaceans: Lobsters vs. Crabs

Best Region for the Season

lobster - this or that - marinalife
Courtesy of Justine G


New England and Canada are known as major lobster hubs along the Atlantic, and Maine is one of the most famous regions in the world for these mouth-watering delicacies. For the freshest catch, Maine's top lobster-loving towns include Rockland, Bar Harbor, Belfast, Georgetown, Harpswell, Kennebunk and Ogunquit.


More than 6,000 species of crabs across the world vary in everything from appearance to taste. For example, Maryland crab fans meticulously pick the meat from under the crab's shell, while in Florida, they split open the legs and claws for a tasty treat. To experience the best Maryland blue crabs, visit cities such as Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as Kent Island on the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore and Solomons Island in southern Maryland.


crab - this or that - marinalife
Blue Crab | Courtesy of Pakhnyushchy


Although they are mostly ocean creatures, lobsters do frequently appear on land and sea. They are omnivores and sometimes eat their own when confined or stressed. You can find them throughout the world's oceans in freshwater and brackish environments. Some of the most delicious species are caught in the Gulf of Maine and along coastal Nova Scotia.


Typically found in saltwater or brackish water, thousands of different crab species live in all of the world's oceans. Like lobsters, some are land-crawlers. Many solely live in the water and others inhabit the edges along rocks and sandy shores. The best crustacean havens for crabbing include Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Florida stone crabs are found in southern waters in shallow, rocky locations including knee-deep seagrass beds and reefs.

Traditional Recipes


The sweet taste of lobster pairs well with your taste buds in any variation. Cook it in a gamut of dishes from steaming, grilling or boiling, to chopped-up in a warm soup or cold salad. Some of the most famous classics include a New England lobster boil, baked lobster tail, lobster mac and cheese, creamy bisque and much more.


Pick-and-eat crab feasts are a beloved pastime across the mid-Atlantic region. Catch, steam, season, crack open and scarf down! Use a mallet to break the claws open and get the good thick meat. Two varieties of crab soup creamy or tomato-based are popular along the East Coast, as well as dishes such as crab dip, crab Rangoon, crab pretzels and best of all the world-famous Maryland crab cakes.

Fun Facts

lobster - this or that - marinalife
Lobster Dish | Courtesy of BDMcIntosh


Lobsters actually have two stomachs and can detach a limb and grow it back during their molting cycle. Today, lobsters are among the pricier seafood selections and are considered a delicacy, but that wasn't always the case. In early 19th century New England, lobsters were so abundant that their shells were used as fertilizer and their meat was fed to pigs as scraps.


Crabs are typically an aggressive crustacean and often fight with other crabs and aquatic creatures. They can walk in any direction and mostly scurry sideways. Unlike lobsters that can live to age 100, Atlantic crabs only survive for three to four years. Dungeness Crabs from Alaska can live up to 13 years, and the Japanese spider crab has the longest lifespan of all its fellow crustaceans, often reaching 80 to 100 years old.

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Cruising the Great Loop Taught Us How to Cook

nyc skyline - food - marinalife
Kate and her husband Tim

Before embarking on the Great Loop, my husband Tim and I lived in New York City, which helped prepare us somewhat for life on the water. We took our clothes to a laundromat, hand washed our dishes, and understood the challenges of living in a small space. But given it's one of the culinary capitals of the world, living in Manhattan didn't teach us how to cook. Since living on our boat, a 31-foot 1996 Camano Troll named Sweet Day, we had to change our relationship with the kitchen, which means we actually had to use it. Here's what we learned.

Be Creative with What We Have

While cruising the Great Loop, we imagined tiki bars and restaurants dotting the shorelines everywhere we stopped. This is definitely true in some parts. But more times than expected, we found ourselves nowhere near a place to grab a meal, much less a grocery store.This means we've learned how to build meals with what we have onboard. We also realized that as long as we have flour and a little butter, homemade tortillas can easily transform a couple sides into tasty tacos and easily impress neighbors at the next docktail party.

Rarely Waste Food

In the daily hustle of our lives in the city, we ended up wasting a lot more food than we'd like to admit. The opposite has been true while cruising. We typically buy enough fresh food for three to four meals, because that's all we can fit in our fridge. A home-cooked dinner is easily stretched to lunch the next day. And since we travel with our fridge, leftovers never get left behind.

No Need for Fancy Kitchen Gadgets

We have a small propane oven and a three-burner stove. We can use these with barely any electricity, making cooking underway and at anchor seamless. When we're plugged into a marina or if we run our generator, we can also use our microwave (when it's not being used as a food pantry).Some cruisers have Instapots and other gadgets, but our boat isn't set up to handle that amount of electricity. Plus, we don't have the space. So, we've had to learn (with a lot of practice) how to cook juicy chicken or tender salmon without the benefits of modern cooking technology.

Access Our Kitchen 24/7

One of the biggest (and underrated) benefits of cruising is that your stuff travels with you, including your kitchen. This means we can make a marinade while cruising and cook the chicken at anchor that night. Or knead a loaf of bread underway to make sure it's ready to bake the next day. Plus, you never have to worry about forgetting olive oil or spices when on a trip. Spending time and experimenting in the kitchen helps break up those long cruising days too, all while rewarding us with a tasty meal once we reach our destination.

Know the Steps Ahead of Time to Plan a Meal

One quirk of our galley is we can only run the oven or the stove, as our propane system can't support running both at the same time. As a result, it requires knowing the recipe and its steps in advance to ensure we have the right equipment and ability to cook the meal. If the meal is good enough to be part of the rotation, the steps become easier to remember the next time we cook it.

Learn What Meals We Can Make Quickly

Just like land life, there are days when we may feel excited about prepping and cooking a more time-intensive meal, and others when we're hungry, it's 7:00 p.m. and we just need to get something in our stomach. In New York, that meant heading downstairs for a slice of pizza.

lunch aboard - food - marinalife
Courtesy of Kate Raulin Carney

That doesn't work while cruising. Learning what meals take time (especially in Sweet Day's kitchen) and what meals can be thrown together quickly (hello mac and cheese and tuna fish) is extremely helpful. When we're stocking up on food, we make sure we have enough of those go-to meal items for those inevitable times when we just need something fast.To help you stock your galley, here are some of our favorite items:

  • High-quality all-purpose knife: Our Zwilling Santoku knife cuts pretty much everything we've cooked in the last year.
  • Dutch oven: This is perfect for baking fresh bread, making soups, rice and other meals. We store it in the oven while not in use.
  • Stainless steel French press: We didn't want to have to rely on electricity to make coffee, so our go-to is a sturdy French press. Plus, it's fun to get beans from local coffee shops.
  • New York Times cooking subscription: This app allows us to easily search tons of recipes and discover new dishes with ingredients we have on board.
  • Pre-cut parchment paper: I learned this from my dad. It keeps food from sticking to the pan and makes cleaning easy a big plus on a tiny boat, where you may need to clean the pan quickly to put another item in the oven.


Here's our go-to recipe for an easy batch of tortillas. Some of our favorite ingredients for stuffing inside are pantry staples black beans and rice or roasted sweet potatoes with a charred scallion crema (Greek yogurt, mayo and scallions charred on a hot skillet).


  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter (Can also replace with shortening, lard or vegetable oil)
  • 7/8 to 1 cup of hot water


  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the butter (if you're using vegetable oil, add it in step 3). Use your fingers to work the fat into the flour until it disappears.
  3. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you're using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy mass. Stir in additional water as needed to bring the dough together.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is very sticky, gradually add abit more flour.
  5. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly and allow them to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes.If you wish, coat each ball lightly in oil before covering to ensure the dough doesn't dry out.
  6. While the dough rests, preheat an ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F.
  7. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8 inches in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Wrap the tortilla in a clean cloth when it comes off the griddle to keep it pliable. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
  8. If you have leftovers, allow them to cool completely, then wrap tightly in plastic and store in the refrigerator. Reheat in an ungreased skillet or for a few seconds in the microwave.

Recipe is from King Arthur Baking Company, To follow Kate and Tim Carney's cruising adventures aboard Sweet Day, go to or @lifeonsweetday on Instagram.

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Dock and Dine on Long Island Sound

Lobster pot restaurant - dock and dine - marinalife
Lobster Pot Restaurant | Needpix

WHERE TO EAT WHEN YOU'RE CRUISING into unfamiliar harbors often feels like an insurmountable problem, especially along the Northeastern Seaboard. While looking around Long Island Sound to create a guide to its gastronomic offerings, we realized that this region hosted so many great dining options that it merited a two-part series.In this issue of Marinalife, we present a delicious sampling of the Connecticut Shore's waterfront establishments that feature fresh seafood and local cuisine. Stay tuned for our summer edition when we tour the culinary treasures along the Long Island New York Shore.

West to East on the Connecticut Shore


La Piccola Casa Ristorante

Dock at Nichols Yacht Yard and treat your crew to great Northern Italian cuisine in an historic house on the waterfront with terrific harbor views. (


The Crab Shell

For waterfront dining at Harbor Landing Marina, savor excellent seafood and local favorites. Also check out the outdoor bar with a crab shack and live music. (


Sunset Grille

On the dock and right near the fuel dock at Norwalk Cove Marina, guests can enjoy gourmet seafood offered at a lively seasonal, outdoor venue. ( Dozens of restaurants are accessible from Norwalk Cove Marina or Rex Marine Center (via the Cove/Rex shuttle) or from the Norwalk Town Dock.)


Dolphin's Cove

Located at Dolphin's Cove Restaurant & Marina and an easy spot to meet crew coming by Rt. 95 or the Port Jefferson Ferry, this family-oriented eatery offers a wide array of dishes from the sea and land and a kids' menu. (

Captain's Cove Seaport Restaurant, Bar & Marina

Nested in the waterfront on Black Rock Harbor, it serves battered and fried seafood and shellfish, and has a decent kids' menu. Check out lots of attractions in the area. (



Located at Brewer's Stratford Marina, this restaurant presents fine dining in a casual atmosphere. Sample fresh fish and other seafood delights prepared to order. (

The Chowder Spot This food truck at the boat launch ramp in Stratford Harbor dishes up the ultimate in casual grub with a fantastic waterfront view.


(between Stratford and Milford on the Connecticut coast)

clam chowder - new england dock and dine - marinalife
Clam Chowder | Wikimedia Commons

Joey C's Boathouse Cantina & Grill

Raise a fork to an all-around good menu with Mexican specialties, as well as local seafood, vegan and gluten-free options, and a large outdoor deck. (

Riverview Bistro

Enjoy excellent seafood and classic dishes in a graceful venue overlooking the Housatonic River. Find a nice, secluded bar and lovely banquet room. (

Knapp's Landing

Located right on the water with a wonderful menu to match the view. Choose from a variety of seafood dishes ranging from clam chowder to lobster ravioli accompanied by a good raw bar. (


After docking at Milford Landing Marina, a one-block walk takes you to lots of great dining choices including:

Archie Moore's

Serving craft beer in a rustic atmosphere since 1898, the pub's regular patrons come for the casual vibe and nibble on the famous buffalo wings. (

7 Seas

Open for lunch and dinner and specializes in New England-style lobster rolls and fried seafood in a casual setting. (

Stonebridge Restaurant

American fare, fresh seafood and great appetizers. Take your pick of seating in a formal dining room, lively pub or outside on the deck. (

SBC Restaurant & Beer Hall

Enjoy the neighborhood bar groove with handmade cocktails, local craft beer and farm-fresh American dishes at the end of the Wepawaug River. (


Dockside Seafood & Grill

Located at Safe Harbor Marina at Bruce & Johnson's. Casual nautical atmosphere with extensive menu of seafood, pasta, and lots more. (

Stony Creek Brewery

Head all the way up river and dock at the brewery for craft brews with a view, cocktails and hot pizza. (


Experience casual waterfront dining on a large patio on the Branford River with a good grilled seafood menu mixed with SoCal and classic New England cuisine, topped off with craft cocktails. (


Lobster Landing

Located right on the water in Clinton Harbor, it's rumored by Yankee Magazine to have the best lobster roll in New England. (

Rocky's Aqua

Known for its classic New England seafood and steak dishes, plus a nice waterfront view. (


Liv's Shack

Located at the site of the former BOOM restaurant at Pilot's Point Marina and specializes in hot buttered lobster rolls, fish tacos, hamburgers and more. (

Bill's Seafood

A short walk or dinghy ride brings you to Bill's at the Singing Bridge. The seafood shack serves fried fish, lobster rolls and chowder on an outdoor deck. Kids love to throw French fries to the gulls and ducks. (


Fresh Salt

Enjoy fine dining of locally sourced produce, seafood and meats at the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (

Note: Head up the Connecticut River to discover other interesting restaurants such as The Griswold Inn in Essex ( and The Blue Oar in Haddam ( where you can BYOB, tablecloth and candles.


Fred's Shanty

Locals love this classic destination for seafood take out with picnic tables on the water. (

Fisherman and lobsters - ne dock and dine - marinlaife
Fisherman and lobsters | Osvaldo Escobar on Unsplash

On the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar

Relax in casual elegance while dining on Italian-influenced seafood and steaks with stellar views of the Thames River. (

Muddy Waters Cafe

Come here for coffees, baked goods, and breakfast or lunch options. It's home of the famous Love Salad, a generous Italian antipasto-type salad with garlic bread. Closest access by water is at the dinghy dock by the town moorings. (

Note: Visit the eastern end where Long Island Sound meets Fisher's Island Sound. In Fisher's Island Sound, head up the Mystic River to find Abbott's Lobster in the Rough (, Red 36 ( and lots of restaurants in downtown Mystic by the Bascule Bridge. Also explore Stonington's many culinary offerings including Breakwater ( and Dog Watch Café (

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