oyster roots

oyster roots

 The story of oysters is the story of New England heritage.

Oysters provided sustenance to the Native American tribes for centuries. When European explorers first arrived on the horizon, they delighted in the seemingly inexhaustible supplies of fresh shellfish they found along the shore, making camps wherever they found oysters.

By 1880, oysters were commonly traded on the wharves of Waquoit, a thriving Cape Cod seaport known for its shipbuilding, marketplace and abundant fisheries.

But the wild oyster stocks simply couldn’t keep up with insatiable demand from Boston to New York. That’s when Yankee ingenuity met with the ancient Asian practice of aquaculture.

Starting in Wellfleet in 1775, shell fishermen began planting Eastern oyster seeds from Chesapeake Bay to replenish their once-teeming oyster beds. In 1877, Massachusetts awarded its first aquaculture grant to grow oysters and quahogs on a 22.8-acre area of Waquoit Bay.

Working from the sloop Ida Lee, local oystermen would cultivate young oysters by placing old shells (also known as cultch) at the entrance of Onset Bay for wild spat to settle on. They would later move the shells to the Seapit River, where they came to be known as “Sea Pete” oysters.

136 years later, that same grant is still going strong. Operated by Todd Stressenger, Washburn Island Oysters have been supplied across the United States since 2011.