Cormorants drying their wings at a Cape Cod oyster farm in summer.
Oysters. They are the most sought-after sustainable shellfish and for good reason. Not only are they known for their aphrodisiac qualities, these sexy bivalves pack a punch of zinc which boosts not only your energy levels but also your immune and skeletal systems. And what other food source do you know that cleans up after themselves? It’s no wonder there are so many towns on Cape Cod that are pumping out shellfish seed for propagation. In fact, there are over 265 growers in Barnstable County alone. These babies filter out up to 50 gallons of nitrogen-loaded water in Cape Cod’s bays and rivers every day and do a darn good job at helping clean up our coastal ecosystem.
Types of Cape Cod Oysters
Cape Cod Oysters have become so popular that they are shipped to restaurants and markets across the globe.
To the uninitiated palate, there are only two types of wine: red and white. The same might be said that the uninspired oyster eater can only detect one type of oyster. But aficionados have their favorites and claim subtle differences in texture, roundness, plumpness, and buttery flavor.
One of the major differences between oysters on Cape Cod that can produce a variance in taste is the method of growing. Generally, there are three methods of farming on Cape Cod:
- Bottom Planted: These oysters are cast to the bottom of an estuary and harvested by dredging the bottom. Because they have direct contact with the sand, mud, and tides, their shell is thicker and excellent for shucking. The Sea Hag variety in Barnstable Harbor is an example of this method.
- Rack & Bag: Oysters are kept in mesh bags or trays that are suspended 1-2 feet off the bottom of the bay. The oyster grows faster, not having to filter mud and sand to get nutrients. But it also doesn’t have to fight to survive, so the shell is thinner and could crack when shucking. The East Dennis oyster, which we see on the Peace Love SUP Fat Bike Tours, exemplifies this method.
- Suspended Trays: Similar to the rack and bag technique, but suspended in water by floats, rather than staked to the bottom. These oysters have thinner shells and are sometimes planted later in the life cycle to toughen them up and strengthen the shell.
Where to See Cape Cod Oysters
There are a few different ways you can experience Cape Cod’s booming oyster farming industry first hand. More and more farms are now offering tours where you have an opportunity to meet the farmers personally, ask questions and learn about where oysters are grown and how the aquaculture industry works. It’s a close encounter of the oyster kind that is sure to educate and inspire.
Floating oyster cages at Washburn Island in Falmouth
If you enjoy being active and happen to be on a paddleboard tour or fat tire bike ride with Peace Love SUP, you may have a chance to get up close to view floating farms in some of the beautiful bays or catch a glimpse of oysters that are grown along the Brewster Tidal Flats. We can talk about everything from seed supply, to planting, as well as how they are grown and harvested. Then we can direct you to all our favorite spots to sample these tasty treats.
Oysters. Cleaning Cape Cod Bay and Beyond
It takes approximately two years for an oyster to grow to market size – about three inches.
Simply put, Cape Cod has a water quality problem. Don’t worry. You won’t get sick by swimming in the water, but there is an excess load of nitrogen, mostly from the widespread use of septic systems as well as some from lawn fertilizers. As the population of Cape Cod has grown in recent years, local government has realized the need to move to wastewater treatment facilities that remove nitrogen and excess nutrients from the wastewater. This should limit the potential for algae growth and restore water quality. But it is a long-term project that will take time.
In the short term, one mitigation strategy is to increase the shellfish farms on Cape Cod, especially in the estuaries where water movement is slower and nitrogen accumulation is greatest. Both oysters and quahogs remove nitrogen as they feed and grow. Then, the oysters are removed from the water and sold to not only local tourists and residents but restaurants and fish markets across the country, exporting the nitrogen along with the shellfish. It’s a strategy that many Cape Cod towns have adopted and seems to be helping.
Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, dig ‘em or don’t, you can’t deny the powers of the magical mollusk, the oyster.
Book your SUP or Bike Adventure Now!
If you’d like to learn more about the shellfish aquaculture on Cape Cod while having a great time outdoors, Peace Love SUP is the place to book your tour. Whether on a paddleboard or fat-tire beach bike, you’re going to have a blast.