Last week on a blue-sky evening that would later turn a dusky pinkish-rose, around 20 interested and enthusiastic oyster lovers climbed aboard the aptly named Sea Gypsy in Oak Bluffs Harbor, skull and crossbones waving high overhead. The 40-foot vessel owned by the most animated pirate, Capt. Jeremiah McCarthy, is part of Pirate Adventures Martha’s Vineyard. The shellfish lovers were almost all older than 8, but enjoyed the captain’s hardy “Arghh!” as much as any second grader. Everyone had a pass, thanks to an invite from Nevette Previd from Farm.Field.Sea. They were on the inaugural trip for Previd’s new Thursday evening Oyster and Aquaculture Tour. The tour is Previd’s brainchild, and a welcome addition to her Farm.Field.Sea culinary adventure lineup.
This newest adventure combines the knowledge of biologist Rick Karney, now semi-retired from the M.V. Shellfish Group, the expertise of Cottage City Oysters farmers Dan and Greg Martino, and the vim and vigor of Capt. Jeremiah McCarthy’s Pirate Adventures.
According to Previd, the Oyster and Aquaculture Tour was almost born out of necessity.
“There has been such a demand for oyster tours on Martha’s Vineyard, our small events with Cottage City Oysters just couldn’t keep up,” Previd noted. “I have been on Pirate Adventures Martha’s Vineyard with my son and was impressed with their professionalism, spontaneity, and love of what they do.”
The seafaring travelers enjoyed some wine and cheese, with plenty of time to mingle before the Sea Gypsy got underway at around 6:45 pm. Previd made introductions, Captain McCarthy explained safety procedures, and Rick Karney told the rapt audience how the shellfish group keeps Vineyard waters thriving with delicious oysters.
Karney arrived on the Island in 1976 and advocated for efforts to expand and revitalize the shellfish industry on Martha’s Vineyard. Today, he said, it’s a $3 million industry, and the M.V. Shellfish Group provides 40 million seed shellfish every season.
“On the Vineyard, shellfishing is very close to people’s hearts,” Karney told the group. “It may be eclipsed by other things in our economy, but in people’s hearts, it’s very strong.”
After the federal government closed areas of Georges Bank to fishing in 1995, efforts were underway to teach fishermen how to “grow their own fish,” Karney said. The shellfish group enlists innovative aquaculture technology (they opened the first solar-powered hatchery in the country) in growing oyster, scallop, mussel, and quahog seed. Today, there are approximately 20 oyster farms in Island waters, including those licensed but not yet selling to the public.
The fact that the industry is providing a living for fishermen is one thing, Karney said, but now science proves that growing shellfish is good for the environment.
“Shellfish filter the water and improve water quality. One oyster can filter 50 gallons a day. Think about what impact food choices have on the planet. Basically, we should all be eating shellfish,” Karney laughed.
Despite Karney’s seemingly unending knowledge of aquaculture and his obvious love for all things shellfish, he said he is enjoying his semi-retirement.
“I don’t miss the alarms going off in the middle of the night, and I don’t miss worrying about funding,” Karney admitted before his presentation on the Sea Gypsy. “It’s like being a grandparent. You come in and play with the babies and then go home.”
During his talk, Karney picked up a scallop out of a bucket he’d brought along, and everyone gathered around to check out the tiny blue eyes that dot the rim of the shell once the scallop opens. “Scallops are both male and female,” he explained, “the sex lives of these things are a whole other story.”
By the time Karney’s talk was over, the Sea Gypsy pulled up alongside Dan and Greg Martino, so they could explain how they grow the oysters in their two-acre aquaculture farm off Eastville Beach.
The brothers, originally from Texas, displayed some of the 27-pound cages the oysters grow in on the ocean floor. “It takes about three years before the oysters get to your plate,” Dan Martino said.
“This is the most sustainable protein you can farm,” Greg told the group.
Then Dan and Greg climbed on board the Sea Gypsy with a big ice chest full of fresh oysters just plucked from the ocean. Everyone hovered around the wooden serving tray, waiting eagerly for a taste. The oysters were a hit, with most eating them without embellishment or maybe just a quick squeeze of lemon. Oohs and ahhs ensued.
Caleb Pulliam, an intern with Farm.Field.Sea., summed it up this way after he tried a shucked oyster: “It’s like kissing the ocean on the lips.”
After everyone had their fill, the brothers disembarked and the tour continued with a ride through Vineyard Sound, arriving back at Dockside Marina in Oak Bluffs just as the sun was setting.
After hosting what could only be deemed an unqualified success, Previd’s wheels were already spinning; she was thinking about how to make the next oyster tour even more enjoyable.
“I just want to bring people to places they’ve never been, and to places where they can learn about their food,” she said.
To take your own Oyster and Aquaculture Tour, $140 for adults and $50 for kids ages 5 to 12, visit farmfieldsea.com.