Monday, August 1, 2011
Bren wasn't kidding when he said he never learned to swim. Raised along the shores of Newfoundland, the short summers and biting temperatures of the Labrador Current didn't provide many swimming opportunities. A rugged coastline with a strong maritime tradition, the connection to the sea there is mostly through labor, not recreation. How ironic I thought, for him to now be in Long Island Sound where the reverse equation often exists today.
A man of many hats, Bren worked a variety of jobs including longlining in the Bering Sea, 'sliming' in the canneries of Alaska, and lobstering north of Boston. When the crooked road of life brought him to Connecticut, he drove a lumber truck while also partnering with his girlfriend in a woodcrafting business which uses reclaimed materials*. About seven years ago, the Branford waters were reopened to commercial shellfishing, and he jumped at the chance to return to the sea.
His Thimble Island Oyster Company grows and harvests oysters along with some clams, on 60 aquatic acres leased from the state. The numbers fluctuate from year-to-year, but his annual harvest averages around 100,000 shellfish. While that may appear to be a large number, it is a relatively small amount when compared to other shellfish companies on the Sound. Bren estimates that his annual harvest is less than what Norwalk's Bloom Shellfish Company may harvest in a month.
Though a small operation, he is able to earn a living so long as he keeps his overhead costs low: no secretary or pricey boat.... no hired help to do the heavy lifting. Most important, he is doing what he loves - and that's not too shabby for a Newfie who can't swim.
Thimble Island Oyster Company
Community Supported Fisheries Program
Soundbounder: Stony Creek 6 a.m. part one
Soundbounder: Hauling The Cage part three
Soundbounder: Starfish...And other Threats part four
*Bren continues to supplement his income, partnering with his girlfriend Nicola in their woodcrafting business using reclaimed materials. Bleacher seats from the Yale Bowl are reincarnated as mirror frames, and wood from Brooklyn watertowers become flower pots. You can find them at the Union Square Market during the holiday season.
Nicola & The Newfoundlander
New York Times: Reclaimed Words in Fort Greene