Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lifting The Dredge




When I hear the word dredge, I usually think of the process of excavating a harbor bottom to make it more navigable. A dredge however, is an oystering term, as well. It is an odd looking contraption, that I can only describe as being part-basket and part-rake. Instead of  altering the Sound's bottom, it's purpose is to gather oysters with as little damage as possible. Damage to the bottom means damage to the oysters, and a bed not properly dredged, can destroy the harvest. 
Careless dredging isn't the only threat to an oyster. Strong noreasters and hurricanes can wreak havoc on  beds by burying them under sand. A large presence of starfish can devour a bed over time, as well. Pollution meanwhile, remains the  most constant and pressing threat (later post). While I was aware of these threats, Norman Bloom mentioned another that I had not considered;... theft. 
Often the oyster beds are marked by little more than a wooden stake that rises a few feet from the surface. In certain years, some beds may flourish while others do not. Norman described a scenario where a boat may be working a bed with limited results, but finds the edge of the bed is more productive. It can be very tempting to cross over that line and dredge someone elses bed. "You have to keep your eyes open". Norman said.
The moment he said those words, it answered a question I had not asked earlier. On our way out of the harbor, I noticed he didn't follow the channel's eastern course, and instead seemed to be zig-zagging all over the place. At one point we were over near Sprite Island, which was far north of the channel and our destination. "Maybe he is taking me on the scenic route." I joked to myself. It now seems very clear that while he was talking to me about getting only 31 cents an oyster, he was also keeping an eye out for other boats dredging his beds. 
Pollution, starfish, storms, and theft. There are a lot of things to keep an eye on at once. 

(More To Follow)
Soundbounder: The Fruits Of Winter (part one)
Soundbounder: I Love It Out Here This Time Of Year (part two)
Soundbounder: Mary Colman (part three)

11 comments:

Bethany said...

pretty fascinating stuff.
can one actually claim the ocean bed though? How does this work?

jeannette stgermain said...

You're right -you need 3 pairs of eyes:) Thank you for the interesting info!

matthew houskeeper said...

Thanks jeannette!

Bethany,
No you cant claim it. These are shallow areas away from the shoreline that are leased by the State of CT. They are not closed off to you or I, we just can't harvest oysters there.

kate said...

Enjoying this tale! what a fun experience, can't wait for the next installment.....

matthew houskeeper said...

Thanks Kate! There will most likely be 3 more over the next week or so.

will said...

matt- i love the series. foto #1 above--full frontal--is very exciting. keep'em coming. i'm glad you're covering these aspects of the sound.

Mark Kreider said...

Farming the seabed has been going on for a very long time. I saw a map of the various plots marked out in the Peconic Bay just for this purpose from 80 or so years ago. I read of one fellow who purchased a home on the North Fork and shortly after discovered that the estate included seabed with the taxes paid up and ready to farm. He has become an oyster and scallop purveyor to some of the most noted restaurants in NYC!

Erica Houskeeper said...

Incredible how he has to be mindful of so many things -- and theft is not something I ever would have considered. Great series and very nice photos. The top image with the head-on angle of the boat and the light bouncing off the water is beautiful.

Erin @ I Heart New England said...

Thanking you for reading my blog, and what a unique one you have here yourself!
I find fishing (especially local) so interesting- one of the oldest ways to making a living, and one of the very few left where a person is entirely in the hands of Mother Nature.

Look forward to reading more!

matthew houskeeper said...

Thanks Erin,
Welcome Aboard!

Mark,
From what I understand, Peconic is a big oyster area too.

Will, Erica,
Thanks, I like the top photo as well. For a while, I had been hoping to do something like this, but the opportunity needed to come along.

bowsprite said...

ohhh! i wish I were there! it looks really beautiful...lovely boat.