Plant a patch of water

Oyster farmers Weatherly and Greg Bates have grown to love Alaska’s Halibut Cove

We came to Alaska in a camper for our honeymoon, made it to Homer and thought it’d be the perfect place to start up a shellfish business,” says Weatherly Bates, 34. She and her husband, Greg, also 34, grew up in Little Compton, R.I., a small coastal community of about 3,000 people. They found their footing in historic East Coast fisheries and through their studies in the University of Rhode Island’s aquaculture and fisheries technology program...

As a kid, she served as a deckhand to her father, Bud Phillips, in commercial rod and reel fluke, bass, scup and tautog. “The markets are all right there; people would come out from the cities, and we just sold fish from the boat.”

The couple’s focus on shellfish aquaculture is a response to witnessing the decline of wild species. “Shellfish has been Greg’s main passion since he was a young man growing up in Rhode Island,” says Weatherly. 

“I was always around boats, but didn’t work them so much,” Greg says. “But Weatherly and I did a lot of recreational harvest for clams and oysters when we were teenagers, and it seemed like a good thing to do in Rhode Island — there was a future in it.”

"We’re taking a wild organism, giving it a habitat to grow and then harvesting it."

Weatherly Bates

The couple, however, found opportunity in Maine in 2003, where they ran a shellfish farm on the Saint George River for four years. When they came west as newlyweds in 2007, they found a budding shellfish industry in Alaska, nothing like what they’d left behind.

“We were kind of shocked that there really aren’t any recreational diggers here or commercial diggers. There’s a real digger culture on the East Coast,” says Weatherly. 

The Bateses and their two children are now the first family in the state to be fully supported by their farms, which they started in 2010. The couple’s 22.5-acre sea plot across the bay from Homer also supports a stronger local ecosystem by establishing healthy shellfish stocks that benefit many other marine creatures. The farms “deliver habitat like a fish aggregating device, juvenile fish and invertebrate habitat. The farms create major ecosystem benefits,” Weatherly says. Alaska’s mariculture industry has been slow to start, but production was... Read more articles in our MAY issue.

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