GOULDSBORO — Corea oyster farmer Joe Young, whose ancestors and another family first settled Gouldsboro’s easternmost village six generations ago, is seeking to expand his operation, after successfully sowing demand for and finetuning his methods to cultivate the succulent bivalves in a salt pond on the southern shore of Gouldsboro Bay.
At 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, the Maine Department of Marine Resources will hold an in-person public hearing to take comments and questions regarding Young’s in-water lease application to raise between 100,000 and 400,000 American oysters in cages and on the bottom within a 2.2-acre area in Mill Pond for a 20-year period. The hearing will take place at the Gouldsboro Recreation Center at 679 Pond Road (Route 195).
From the ocean, the secluded salt pond is reached via Long Mill Pond Cove but is only accessible at high tide and by small watercraft. Young would use at most 200 wire cages, in which the oysters are grown from seed in suspended fine-mesh bags, to protect them from green crabs and other predators. Once they are big enough to survive, the oysters will be planted to grow further on the pond’s gravelly and soft and hard-mud bottom in two designated, deeper-water areas. Harvesting is strictly by hand with a clam rake or oyster tongs.
From the Paul Bunyan Road in Corea, the only vehicular access to the Mill Pond is via Young’s private woods road leading down from his year-round home. He says he and his sisters own half of the shorefront around the undeveloped, 40-acre waterbody. As children, the salt pond was their summer playground for swimming and scrambling the pink granite ledges. Canada geese and eiders, buffleheads, gulls and other sea birds frequent the inlet.
“I get along with the birds very well,” quipped Young, speaking last week from Florida, before heading back to Maine. Other Mill Pond landowners have been supportive of his aquaculture venture and have become oyster customers too.
Inquisitive by nature, Young traces the idea of growing something in Mill Pond back to taking the University of Maine’s “Aquaculture in Shared Waters” course. The course was offered to local lobster fishermen at the Gouldsboro town office in 2013 as a potential means to diversify their revenue. At the time, Young lobster-fished to make a living and had never grown oysters nor had he ever eaten raw oysters. He recognized, however, the shellfish’s value as a gourmet product that fetches premium prices.
“I wanted to grow a few oysters just for fun,” he recalls.
Operating as Schoodic Sea Farm, Young applied for and was granted by the DMR four Limited Purpose Aquaculture permits (LPAs) that are good for one year but are renewable at year’s end. Sourcing seed oysters from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture in Breman, he has worked at growing oysters ever since and refined his methods. His one-man operation is labor-intensive. As they grow, the oysters must be transferred into larger mesh bags throughout the growing season. He adds the bivalves like to be with their own size and are sorted accordingly.
To tend the oysters, depending on the tide, Young says he would use watercraft measuring 12 feet or under in length. He would either row or attach a small, quiet, electric battery-powered motor to a boat.
“It takes about three or four years to grow oysters down there,” Young said, referring to Mill Pond. In southern Maine, where the ocean water temperatures are warmer, oyster farms take less time to get started. He says it takes longer farther Downeast.
As he tinkered with oysters, Young simultaneously was operating a seasonal photo gallery featuring his late photographer aunt Louise Young’s images, as well as a seafood takeout at his family’s fishing wharf in Corea Harbor. On a whim, he asked local resident Jennifer Stucker to sample a few of his home-grown oysters. “She slurped it down and said, ‘That’s the best oyster I’ve ever had.” He began supplying to and serving the Mill Pond oysters on the half shell at the takeout. They’ve been in demand ever since.
Besides Corea on the Wharf, which he has since sold but still supplies oyster to, Young also has provided his bivalves to Ironbound Restaurant in Hancock as well as some neighbors. At this stage in his life, the small-scale oyster farmer would like to make his operation more cost-effective and profitable but wants to keep his enterprise manageable with maybe one helper.
“I like doing it,” he summed up. “It gets me out every day.”
To read Schoodic Sea Farm’s DMR lease application, scroll down at www.maine.gov/dmr/aquaculture/leases/pending/index.html.