AUGUSTA, Maine — Demand for Maine oysters is growing, but regulations on the cold-weather storage of the delicacy prevent some aquaculturists from accessing their stock during winter, depressing the supply.
Until the last few years, oyster farmers sold only about nine months out of the year, said Bill Mook, an aquaculturist on the Damariscotta River. But now, with demand rising, Mook and other harvesters want to sell year-round.
Oysters grow best in the warm, upstream locations on Maine’s oceanic rivers such as the Damariscotta or the Bagaduce. In the spring and summer, temperatures there can reach 60 degrees, optimal growing conditions for the American oyster.
But cold winter temperatures often cause ice at the river’s surface, making it difficult for harvesters to access their stocks. In a perfect world, Mook said, farmers could simply move the stock downstream, closer to the open ocean, where temperatures vary far less, for winter storage. It’s still too cold for the oysters to grow, but at least farmers could easily get to their stocks.
Last year, Mook obtained a nonrenewable experimental license to do just that. But if he wants to keep weighing anchor in warmer waters, the state says he will need to get another standard aquaculture lease, just like he did for his growing site upriver.