County Offers Training Program For Shellfish Volunteers

Barnstable County marine specialists have announced a two-day training program for shellfish volunteers, the first of its kind in the county.

The Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and Woods Hole Sea Grant will host a workshop geared for volunteers working with town shellfish departments. The workshops are scheduled for Wednesday, May 28, and Tuesday, June 3, from 9 AM to 11 AM at the Harborview Conference Room in Barnstable Village. Each will cover different topics, so organizers encourage participants to attend both sessions.

There is no cost to participate; the goal is to provide volunteers with a useful foundation in the basics of shellfish biology, aquaculture techniques, shellfish husbandry, predators, pests, diseases and other fundamentals of oyster farming, instructor Sandy Macfarlane said. Ms. Macfarlane is a former shellfish warden of Orleans and author of multiple books on shellfishing.

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Brewster has the Friends of Land, Aquatics, Trails and Shellfish program; in Barnstable there is the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing; in Dennis there is the Commercial Recreational Association for Better Shellfishing; Provincetown, Wellfleet, Orleans and Yarmouth have volunteer programs, and Falmouth, with approximately 1.5 million oysters now in Little Pond, has its own volunteer program to assist in the town’s propagation project.

Ms. Macfarlane hopes to gather volunteers from all of these groups to teach them ways to best assist their respective towns. She also hopes to attract those interested in volunteering. The workshop she said could make volunteers more accountable and better fit to work on their own.

“A volunteer may be given a specific task and the town can train them to do that task and once they go through the training program, then hopefully they can do it on their own,” Ms. Macfarlane said. “This is a win-win situation. The town gets the labor and the shellfish get in the water. Volunteers get a chance to give back, they are outdoors, and they learn to grow oysters and get them on the table.”

There is a lot to know about shellfish and aquaculture, Ms. Macfarlane said.

The training program will begin with a basic biology lesson. Ms. Macfarlane will discuss the meaning of a hatchery and what it takes to combine the eggs and sperm to create the oyster seed. She will explain what happens when the town receives the seed and the immediate steps following.

She will talk about the many different ways to grow the seed including upweller technology. An upweller is a tank that retains shellfish seed and allows ocean water to enter into the tank and the oysters to feed constantly.

Ms. Macfarlane will discuss the modes to disperse shellfish into a water body following the initial growth period and explain the difference between commercial and propagation projects. 

Ms. Macfarlane will touch upon diseases, predators and pests that are a threat to oysters as well as other organisms that compete for space and for food with the shellfish. She will teach volunteers how to clean off cages and other netting to best prevent these threats. She will also discuss tactics to grow shellfish in environmentally sensitive areas.

There are public health issues to understand oyster farming as well as state sanitation standards to adhere to, she said.

“There’s a lot to understand and the goal of the training program is to put all of this into perspective for those who do not know,” she said. “Volunteers might know what oysters taste like on the half shell but what does it take to get the oysters on the plate?” That is what the program will assist with, she said.

Those interested are asked to register with Ms. Macfarlane at sandymac@capecod.net or 781–936–8773.

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