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Do you ever wonder who that first person was who opened up an oyster and thought, “that looks tasty”? Thousands of years later we have diverse ways of enjoying this ocean delicacy and Adventure Mystic offers kayak tours of oyster farming in the picturesque Mystic River.
The tour starts with a brief land-based introduction to the four native bivalve species that grow on the ocean floor in nearby Fishers Island Sound. We put on lifejackets and head out with individual kayaks although tandem kayaks are available. We paddle under both the iconic bascule bridge and the railroad bridge into the waters of Fishers Island Sound. Our tour guide, Bella, provides historic tidbits for those of us within earshot. At this point we paddle hard for several minutes until we’re winded but sight our oyster farmer who is anchored close to shore.
Steve Plant of Connecticut Cultured Oysters is a lifelong Connecticut resident who captains a 30 ft. skiff with a huge center crane. His boat deck is piled with fresh oysters harvested from an area leased especially for farming. Microscopic oysters are hatchery-reared then planted within boundaries identified by small, unobtrusive buoys. He grows an indigenous species known locally as a “Mystic oyster”. It takes two years of careful tending before harvesting this odd looking food. Natives of this area have eaten shellfish long before record keeping and oysters have been cultivated here since at least 1843.
Unlike fish farming, which has the potential to leach antibiotics and toxins into the water, each oyster filters gallons of water each day. Fisher’s Island Sound and the Mystic River already have very clean water but the oysters substantially improve the ecosystem by filtering out damaging nitrogen and other impurities. I don’t know how all of that results in delicious food but it does. Sustainability and accessibility are core values and a natural result of this kind of controlled aquaculture since the water is still available for public recreation. There is so much more to the interesting tour and somehow, Steve’s enthusiasm has won me over despite the oysters’ appearance. I’ll try one or two on my next seafood restaurant visit.
Our return trip requires energetic paddling through waves and light wind and we share a total of two hours together while paddling about four miles. This is not a tour for beginners. I recommend this adventure for intermediate kayakers ages 12 and up who don’t mind getting a bit wet. Bella is the primary tour guide along with occasional guest tour guide Tessa Gretchis who is an aquaculture professor at UConn. Tours are available in good weather for groups of 4-6 beginning Spring 2020.
Pro Tips: use the public bathroom at Mystic River Park (on Cottrell St. across East Main St.) before your tour starts. Wear water-resistant layers and footwear. Be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen. Leave yourself time for a post workout treat at Karma Kitchen or stop into local restaurants for fresh oysters and seafood.
Related: Shellfishing Tips for Beginners