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Maine's oyster industry sees record sales as more farmers cash in

Maine is seeing more oyster farmers pop up along its coast, leading to more product, higher demand, and a big reputation for Maine's fourth most valuable seafood.

FREEPORT, Maine — Maine oyster sales nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021, according to recent data from the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The increase in sales comes from more farmers sprouting along the Maine coast and higher demand after a volatile economic state brought on by the pandemic.

But now, oysters are being celebrated, with the Maine Oyster Festival in Freeport showcasing dozens of oyster farmers, many of which just opened up in the last few years.

"I'm just so excited it's a beautiful day, a gorgeous day and cool to see everyone out," Ally Sortwell of Lebanon, Maine, said. 

The oyster farmers cashed in on the warm Sunday as sell-outs were reported during the three-day weekend.

Eric Oransky and his crew at Maine Ocean Farms started seeding oysters in 2017 and said hard work and years of waiting go into one oyster.

"Our background was working on boats which is a huge amount of work... we found out around year three that it was going to be more work than we thought it was going to be," Oransky said.

Oransky said Maine Ocean Farms doubled its output each year with its specialty oysters, the Wet Smack Oyster and the Recompense Cover Oyster.

He added with Maine's cold water and the level of care they put into cultivating the oysters, it takes three to four years before the oysters are ready for harvest.

"Maine oysters are expanding the market and are just really some of the best stuff around, and the colder water up here means they keep longer on the distributor shelf," Oransky said.

Despite small fluctuations here and there, Oransky also said oysters have been able to stay at consistent prices through inflation.

"The shellfish market has been pretty stable... now the impacts are that everything just costs more due to supply chain issues like we've been waiting on the rope we use for our long lines now for months, and we have no idea when it's going to come in," Oransky said.

He added more farmers have relieved some of the demand pressure on Maine's oyster industry.

According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine oysters brought in more than $6,025,000 in 2020. In 2021, the industry brought in more than $10,143,000.

As for the future of Maine's oysters, Oransky said farming them is a sustainable and good way for fishermen to make a living.

"I think it's going to continue to grow pretty rapidly... and I hope it remains a supplemental way for Mainers to earn a living on the water."

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