Check Out Those Montauk Oyster Guys

Montauk Shellfish Company is their name, oysters are their game. Commercial fisherman Mike Martinsen, of Montauk, and his buddy, marine biologist, Mike Doall, are all about “cultivating excellence in sustainable aquaculture,” Martinsen says. Their shared vision is based “on the principles of sustainability and respect for the ocean,” Doall says.

What does that mean to you and me? We get to enjoy the most clean, delicious oysters, small enough to pop in your mouth on the half-shell, whenever we want, and do it in good conscience. Montauk Pearls are available at Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Café on East Lake Drive, Ruschmeyers on Second House Road and the Beach House on 27 in East Hampton.

According to the oyster duo, Martinsen is the “brawn” and Doall the “brains.” I am not convinced this is true. Martinsen has been a commercial fisherman his whole life, and has personally “endured collapses of local fisheries due to human population density, fossil fuels, and neglect for the Earth’s ecosystems. I am happy that my personal quest for supporting my family [Mike is a single dad of four] is now being accomplished with little impact to the environment, and with helpful gains to the estuary system.” Sounds like smarts to me. [expand]

The Mikes met in a lab at Stony Brook University, where Doall teaches shellfish restoration and Martinsen was studying for his own degree after his divorce. The two men spoke about starting an oyster farm one day. That day has come. They have a small boat, and Martinsen is restoring an abandoned barge, given to him by Rick of Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Cafe, to dispose of. Martinsen is all about recycling, so he didn’t throw it out, so he is making the barge seaworthy. He found wood on the beach in Montauk after a storm. “I picked up 20 CCA timbers from the tide line and made stringers for deck support.” And now “That Stupid Boat,” as they call it, will be the way Martinsen and Doall harvest their Montauk Pearls.

The Pearls from Montauk Shellfish Company are raised from small seed in floating bags along trawl lines during growing season (April to November). This surface grow-out system has several advantages: One, “oysters are kept in the upper water layer where phytoplankton (food) abundance is greatest; two, oysters are constantly churned by surface waves, helping create a nice shape, deep cup and strong shell; and three, the sun dries off any fouling and helps keep oysters clean.

A few months before harvest, the oysters are submerged and “ocean finished” at depth in the clear, crisp ocean waters off Montauk in Block Island Sound.” The team call their pearls, “salty, clean and pure; a true kiss from the sea. And the oysters are doing good for the lake,” Martinsen said, referring to Lake Montauk, which is actually a bay in front of Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Cafe. “It was a freshwater lake before around 1926,” Martinsen says. “The phytoplankton ingest nitrogen and the oysters take up that nitrogen. The more oysters in the Lake, the better the water clarity and the eelgrass thrives. It is a perpetuating circle of goodness.”

Montauk Shellfish Company is unique in the oyster world. The Mikes “have the first and only permit in New York State for surface grown oysters,” Mike M. says. “Surface grown, ocean finished,” is their tag line. Oysters are hot right now. Everyone wants the Pearls, and major suppliers have been affected by heavy rains in river deltas, an outbreak of MSX (oyster disease) in Maine, Massachusetts and Canada and the oil spill in the Gulf.

The Mikes hope to build their own hatchery for their Montauk Pearls. They must also protect them from oyster predators: boring drills (snails), boring sponges and starfish.

And like the predators to the oysters, we too have to take responsibility “for the ecosystem crisis that faces the world,” Mike M. says. “Long Island is a perfect example of an earth microcosm facing immediate hardships directly related to overpopulation, neglect and complacency. When we wean ourselves from fossil fuels, then my prayers will have been answered, and the earth’s support systems will thrive once again.” I told you he was smart. Enjoy a Montauk Pearl and think about that. As Mike M, says, “It’s good stuff.”


You can visit them on Facebook: Montauk Shellfish Company. Mike Martinsen: 631 875-5355 mailto:aliveatseaag[email protected]

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