Shore leave: Wellfleet shellfisherman pulls oysters from sea to hibernate in his back yard

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
25 January 2007, at 12:00am

US - Commercial oyster-farming on Cape Cod is a bit of a shell game in winter -- ice and cold can damage both oysters and equipment. Thats why shellfishermen such as Jim OConnell of the Wellfleet Shellfish Co. "pit" their oysters -- moving them from the metal racks on the ocean floor where they grow to an onshore pit or cellar to sit out the coldest months.

Wellfleet shellfisherman Jim O’Connell protects his oysters from the ice and cold of winter by ’pitting’ them - moving them from the sea to the cellar.

O’Connell usually pits his oysters in December. But because of this year’s unseasonably warm weather, he waited until mid-January. Transferring his 250,000 oysters -- in mesh bags and plastic baskets -- from the sea floor off Wellfleet to a cellar in his back yard takes several days, and a trio of teenage assistants.

Pitting "protects my investment of time and money and it protects the oysters I’m trying to make a living with," O’Connell said. "They go into a root cellar where they can live a long time."

Until "the first big tide of March," to be specific. Oysters consider the cool and humid conditions of O’Connell’s cellar, with its plastic tarp entrance, concrete walls and dirt floor, perfect for hibernation.

"Oysters go dormant in the winter," he explained. "When the water gets below a certain temperature there’s no algae in the water, there’s no food. So, from the layman’s point of view, they fatten up (beforehand) to get through the winter."

Source: Boston Herald