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)