Humans can summer at sea, and oysters can winter on land

They may have wintered on dry land.
They may have wintered on dry land.
Image: AP Photo/Phil Sears
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On Christmas morning, when many of us were lounging in pajamas, eating cinnamon rolls, and trying on new sweaters, Tamar Haspel was hauling more than 10,000 pounds of oysters out of the frigid waters of Cape Cod to overwinter safely on land.

After spending 10 hours moving about half of the farm’s oysters onto land, Haspel, an oyster farmer and journalist, took to Twitter to explain that hauling the wire mesh cages filled with small oysters out of the intertidal flats where they flourish is one of the most labor-intensive tasks of the year for her team. While oysters grown in deeper waters or in water that doesn’t freeze over in the winter are less likely to need cold-weather storage, Haspel’s farm risks extensive damage from floating ice that could crush or shear the oyster cages, and scatter bags full of tiny oysters into the Atlantic Ocean.

Haspel explained why the process is necessary on her blog in 2013:

We grow our oysters in Barnstable Harbor, on intertidal flats that are about eight feet under water at high tide, but dry at low tide. It is that big tide, in part, that’s responsible for the excellent oystering conditions. Twice a day, nutrient-rich water flows into the harbor and around the oysters, insuring regular meals.

But, come winter, intertidal areas in cold climates are dangerous places. Once ice forms in the harbor, the tide is like a game of musical chairs. While the water’s in, the ice floes float, moving with the current. But, when the water goes out, it drops the ice wherever it happens to be. If where it happens to be is directly above your oystering equipment, you’re in for some serious damage.

The other half of the oysters will be moved in the coming weeks, and then back into the water in the spring, once the crushing threat of floating ice is gone, to grow big enough to harvest, and one day, to eat.