Underwater Endeavors In Sandwich

JAMES KINSELLA/ENTERPRISE - Sandwich Department of Natural Resources workers and AmeriCorps volunteers worked with oysters June 2 at Mill Creek.JAMES KINSELLA/ENTERPRISE - A heap of oyster cages at Mill Creek.JAMES KINSELLA/ENTERPRISE - Mary Lynn Scott (left) of Belchertown and Sarah McNeill of East Bridgewater use a kayak to move cages for juvenile oysters.JAMES KINSELLA/ENTERPRISE - David J. DeConto, assistant director of natural resources, holds a clump of oysters from under the boardwalk.

Late Monday morning, workers set about tending a marine garden in Mill Creek with hopes of generating a tasty harvest in the years to come.

The garden consists of juvenile oysters in various stages of development.

Volunteers from AmeriCorps joined with workers from the town’s Department of Natural Resources to cull out dead oysters and redistribute the others, whether in lower densities on the three-tiered metal trays used to propagate the animals’ growth, or into the waters of the creek, there to find hard surfaces on which to fasten and grow.

Prior propagation efforts already seem to be succeeding.

David J. DeConto, assistant director of natural resources, came walking out of the creek from underneath the Sandwich Boardwalk.

In his rubber-gloved hand was a clump of oysters attached to each other, a number of which were just under the legal minimum harvest size of three inches in length.

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These were oysters previously turned out into “the wild” (or what passes for wild in the shallow creek) to find a home to grow.

Mr. DeConto said many had taken up residence underneath the boardwalk, where the rocky bottom offers more hard surfaces than the sandy bed to either side.

Mark S. Galkowski, the town’s director of natural resources, said it takes about three years for a baby oyster to reach maturity when it can be legally taken.

Mr. Galkowski said the town launched its efforts about five years ago to create a recreational oyster fishery in Sandwich.

He anticipates that the town will be able to open the creek either later this year or next year to the taking of oysters.

But given the relatively small population of animals in the creek, Mr. Galkowski said the season will be very short: perhaps just one or two days for actual harvesting.

In contrast, the neighboring Town of Barnstable, with far larger areas in which to grow oysters, conducted a 2013-14 season that lasted five months and offered more than 60 harvest days.

Asked why Sandwich would bother to start an oyster fishery, Mr. Galkowski said, “It’s our mission to improve the natural resources where we can.”

Barnstable County has been providing the town with funding to buy baby oysters from Aquacultural Research Corporation in East Dennis.

Mr. Galkowski said the town has been experimenting with different methods to grow its oysters.

Initially, the town put the oysters in bags that also contained shells on which to fasten, and put the bags in cages under the boardwalk.

More recently, the town has been placing the oysters in triple-tier metal trays in the creek slightly west of the boardwalk (to one’s left as one walks on the boardwalk toward Cape Cod Bay.)

Mr. Galkowski said the town has started leaving the bottom tier (or “floor”) empty, given the silting of sand that can smother oysters placed on that level.

He called the participation of the AmeriCorps volunteers “huge” in helping the town perform the cage-tending work more quickly. On Monday, 10 AmeriCorps members participated in the oyster work.

Sandwich already has succeeded in establishing a recreational fishery for quahogs. The town obtains contaminated quahogs from the Taunton River and places them on the creekbed to the east (right) of the boardwalk, there to grow and filter themselves clean. Their season starts around November and lasts a few months. 

But oysters, which are a different species and have their own devotees, would widen Sandwich’s shellfish mix.

“This is a bonus for us,” Mr. Galkowski said.

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