Aquaculture: Oyster Farming


Oysters are one of nature’s best machines that help restore polluted waters to health. They naturally filter water and remove toxic nutrients from our ecosystem including nitrogen and phosphorus. Increased filtration by healthy oyster populations can also prevent harmful algal blooms that harm the water and the wildlife living in and around it.

In 2008, Three Bays Preservation, Inc., teamed with the Barnstable Shellfish Department and purchased 60,000 oyster seeds and placed them along the banks of the Marstons Mills River just outside Warren’s Cove. Could the shellfish help rid the water of excess nutrients, especially nitrogen? Fortunately the answer was a resounding yes! The oysters grew so well there, after only one season they could be planted.

A year later, Three Bays and the Town of Barnstable decided to grow more oysters in Prince’s Cove – whose waters flow into North Bay – thanks to grant money awarded by the Horizon Foundation. 

On a cold, rainy and very windy day in June 2009, we traveled to Dennis to the Aquacultural Research Corporation to pick up 350,000 oyster seeds. With the help of folks from the Barnstable Association of Recreational Shellfishing (BARS,) the seed was played into oyster bags and set out in racks along the section of the Marstons Mills River that connects Prince’s Cove and North Bay. This is a program we hope to continue year after year.

The work of Three Bays Preservation in aquaculture has been ongoing for over sixteen years.

In 2000, in partnership with the Town of Barnstable, Three Bays Preservation, Inc., initiated the innovative Floating UPweller System aka (FLUPSY) from Atlantic Aquaculture, a supplier of aquaculture equipment. The FLUPSY is a floating shellfish seed-culturing device consisting of seed containers called silos, and they are attached to a pier in a float-like apparatus. These young shellfish are placed in the silos, and an economical pump system brings a continual flow of naturally-occurring nutrients and oxygenated water from Prince Cove waters to the seeds in the containers, while expelling natural-occurring seed waste products back to the waters. 

A FLUPSY is a proven method by which delicate ‘nursery’ shellfish are cultured from hatchery until large enough to be planted in a natural habitat. During this nursery phase, it’s critical that shellfish seeds be fed and protected from predation by crabs and whelks. Microscopic algae called phytoplankton that grows in our estuaries make ideal food for oysters, which are filter feeders that draw in sustenance through their tiny siphons. Over time, the young shellfish incorporate the phytoplankton into their tissue as they grow. At Three Bays, we hope we can enable the maximum growth of these shellfish while minimizing the threats to their growth. 

We set up this innovative contraption in West Bay. Since 2003, this FLUPSY system has been operated by staff at the Natural Resources Department and has since been relocated to Prince Cove Marina in Marstons Mills. 

Under these specialized conditions, shellfish seeds should grow at high densities much more quickly and more uniformly as compared to low-flow conditions. And during the growing season, clams cultured in upwellers can thrive and grow more than a millimeter a week, more than doubling in total volume every week. We’ve seen oysters in these units grow as much as five millimeters in a single week, increasing their total volume fivefold to tenfold.

At Three Bays Preservation, Inc., we firmly believe that shellfish propagation not only provides a premium shellfish resource for the Town’s license holders, but also fortifies the shellfish populations that help cleanse our estuaries naturally through filter feeding.  It’s a system where everyone wins, including the environment.