Oystermen create a better oyster bed at Gulf Pond

The Briarpatch Enterprises crew of owner Joseph Gilbert, Mike Duhaime and Bob Kmetz, headed into Gulf Pond Thursday to give new oysters a better chance to grow.

They loaded a small oyster boat with about 100 bushels of oyster shells, salvaged from their offshore oyster beds, then carefully poured the shells from their boat into the pond.

“This is all clean dry shell,” Gilbert said. “When oysters develop after two weeks of swimming as larvae, they drop to the bottom and they need clean dry shell to cement themselves to. So we spread this in here right about spawning time, and then in a couple of weeks from now, those little larvae will drop to the bottom, cement to this and grow into oysters. And by the end of the year they will be about one inch in diameter.”

The process is called shelling, a way of “enhancing Mother Nature’s work,” Gilbert explained.

“We provide a good medium for Mother Nature to create the next crop.”

He explained the shelling process a little more thoroughly, in layman’s terms.

There are male and female oysters living in Gulf Pond. Here, they usually spawn in July, Gilbert said. The female releases eggs, and the male senses that and releases sperm. And out there in the water, the egg and sperm unite, then mass spawning may occur.

In two weeks, the united sperm and egg have become a larvae, and starts to grow its own shell. At that point it’s heavy enough to sink to the bottom, and hopefully land on clean, dry shell to which to cement itself.

“If it’s mud, he’s a goner,” Gilbert said.

The oyster, safe on its host shell, continues to grow.

This is the first load of shell, or cultch — the mass of stones, broken shells, and grit of which an oyster bed is formed — that Briarpatch has brought out, but plans to bring more to cover a significant part of the pond.

Gulf Pond had been classified as “prohibited” for a number of years, meaning that the pond was essentially closed for the harvesting of shellfish, except under certain circumstances.

In November 2015, the pond’s classification was changed from “prohibited” to “restricted relay,” meaning the oysters could be removed and taken to different areas as seed, thus increasing commercial activity in the pond.

Briarpatch orchestrated a cleanup of the pond in April, and this week’s efforts are one more step in trying to bring the pond back to its oyster potential.

“My efforts are for the greater good,” Gilbert said. “It’s about making more oysters.”