The state environmental police are still investigating the theft of more than 4,000 baby oysters from Sandwich’s oyster fishery, but the town’s director of natural resources does not hold out much hope.
“Four thousand sounds like a lot, but they are so small and could easily be hidden in someone else’s growing bed,” Natural Resources Director David J. DeConto said on Wednesday, September 18.
But the theft, which occurred in August, galvanized Mr. DeConto to apply for a $10,000 state grant to help the town pay for security cameras and lights for the Mill Creek area.
“The security measures would not just be for oysters, but to illuminate the Boardwalk and the parking lot as well,” Mr. DeConto said. “It’s a dangerous area for fishermen at night.”
The City of Lynn applied to the state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) for a similar grant earlier this year, according to published reports.
The city successfully sought $15,000 from the DMF’s Public Access Small Grant program to install floodlights at the Lynn Heritage State Park pier, which was also dark at night.
The cover of darkness aided the thief or thieves who stole the baby oysters from Sandwich’s growing beds this summer—wiping out years of work and possibly causing the cancellation of this year’s oyster harvest.
Mr. DeConto had started the town’s oyster garden from tiny seeds about eight years ago.
The theft was discovered by Joshua K. Wrigley, assistant natural resources director, who regularly checks the town’s floating containers, or “growing cages,” near the boardwalk. The baby oysters were not yet large enough to be legally taken by fishermen.
The natural resources department is continuing to take inventory of the remaining oysters to see how many are left, Mr. DeConto has said.
Although he declined to estimate the percentage of the loss, the director did say that “a good portion” of the stock was gone and that recreational oyster harvesting this winter could be cancelled.
It takes about three years for a baby oyster to reach maturity (3 inches or more), when it can be legally harvested. Warm summer ocean water is often rife with bacteria from stormwater runoff and human and animal wastes. Oyster and other shellfish cleanse themselves as winter’s cold bathes the bay and the creek.
Until then, Sandwich’s oysters should not be eaten.