by Bekah Angoff
I pulled into the parking lot of the quiet, post-season Fiddler’s Cove Marina on a sunny Thursday in September to meet with Dan Ward of Fiddler’s Cove oysters and Ward Aquafarms. We sat by the docked boats and talked about his studies in Zoology at the University of New Hampshire and the drive behind the start of his research in aquaculture. Most of the farm’s inception came out of various experiments and research ventures either self-propelled or funded by various grants and range from oyster and clam growing to testing various technologies. Dan and his crew have everything from infrared cameras measuring temperatures in the lease to a satellite monitored spectrophotometer that measures algal growth and will alert Dan via email if there are any unusual blooms present.
Right at the foot of the main dock where we were sitting was a small raft containing his upwelling system, which was empty after a busy spring and summer nursing juvenile oysters. We walked along the edge of the marina to where the farm’s slip was, aligned with more wooden rafts containing other growing projects. The first raft he opened up contained six bays of a downwelling system containing bay scallops, just about an inch in length. These scallops were earmarked for some experiments in other beds, such as one that Dan partners with in Wellfleet. Adjacent to the upweller was another just like it, only this one contained both mature oysters and scallops which were in bays wired to a monitor on the back end of the raft, which is a part of a research project partnered with NOAA. Dan and one of his employees left with the bay scallops from the downweller and made their way to Wellfleet, and I was left with the other three farm employees to take a tour of the lease.
The guys took me out on the skiff past the rows of boats, through a small passage, and then into the open harbor as the farm is subtidal, meaning it never goes dry with the tides. It took us about 10 minutes to reach Half Tide Rock, which is just before the start of their lease. With a gentle flip of the skiff, we reached the float, where the tumbling and sorting operations occur. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a seagull perched on top of the hut, which the guys have affectionately named “F^*@ Face”, who was keeping watch over the cages lined up to dry out in the sun (or just waiting for a snack). They proceeded to take each clean cage off of the pile and carefully cover each tray with oysters, only covering 50% of the space. It was explained that only half of the surface area be covered, that way each oyster had a chance to grow quickly and evenly. The cages were then loaded onto the skiff where we made our way to a buoy in the middle of their lease. Once the cages were tethered to the buoys, the guys made quick work of throwing them overboard. Now, you would think that just throwing them to the depths would be cause for questioning of their ability to stay in once place, but not at Ward Aquafarms. Each cage has a geotag attached to it, and with the aid of satellite magic can be monitored via a proprietary app on an iPad that Dan had built himself.
We then took a peak at a few other cages plotted around the lease, which were raised by a rickety winch and placed on the boat to check for any fouling that may present any issues for the oysters. It was explained that while the oysters appeared to be of market size (about 3.25 in), the oysters would not be harvested, as the goal is to have large oysters with stronger shells, and therefore firmer meats with complex finishes. It is this level of care that makes Fiddler’s so reliable. Dan's interest in aquaculture, mind for innovation and sheer ambition has created a perfect storm for top quality oysters that Pangea is proud to present to you. We took a final spin around the float for one last photo opportunity, and then returned to the dock.