Shellfishing | Quahogs | Eastern Oyster | Softshell Clams | Bay Scallops


Eastern Oyster

Crassostrea virginica


Remote set

Oysters can be grown in so many different ways. Here at Natural Resources, we love oysters and love to grow them for the masses. One way Natural Resources grows oysters is a method called remote set. Many towns on Cape Cod use this method. This is where oysters are set on shell in a hatchery to simulate how oysters would grow out in nature. Unlike quahogs that have a foot and dig into the sand or mud, oysters lose their foot when they are very young and instead will stick to shells, small hard fragments, rocks, even the side of your boat (if you’re not using it) or under your dock! Once the oyster has chosen that spot, that is where the oyster lives out the remainder of its life.

This process begins with preparation of shell bags to give the oysters something to stick to. This picture shows AmeriCorps Cape Cod members preparing shellbags.

These bags have different sizes of shell inside. We wanted to test them to see if one worked better than another. We have also tested different kinds of shell in the past. Surf clam is what is commonly used today because it is readily available from all the canning factories.


Thousands of bags are made for towns all over Cape Cod and Massachusetts. Once the bags have been prepared, the tank is prepped.

The tank looks like a big above ground swimming pool. The sides are waxed so the oysters don’t stick to the tank.


The bags of shell are place in the tank on scaffolding with airtubes running underneath to ensure circulation and oxygenation of the water.


Now it’s time to fill the pool! Filtered ocean water is added to the tank and the shellbags are covered.

Once the perfect conditions are reached, the oyster larvae are ready to be released into the tank. These are the result of a recent oyster spawn done in the hatchery.

This bucket contains at least 5 million oyster larvae that are “hot to set”. In the bucket, you can see how the larvae are starting to stick to each other in clumps. That means they are also ready to stick to the shell!

The bucket is then poured into the tank. And after some waiting (around 5 days) the first bag is ready to be pulled out. Even looking very closely, it would be incredibly difficult to tell there are oysters set on the shell, but they are there in the hundreds and thousands.


The boat is then loaded up with the bags and we head to the ocean!


Next, the bags are taken out of the boat and placed on racks in an intertidal area. They are covered with wet burlap bags to keep them shaded from the hot summer sun.



After about 5 days, you can begin to see tiny brown dots appear on the shell. Those are the oysters.


After two weeks in the field, they grow larger and more apparent!

As the oysters grow, there is less and less space on the shell and the oysters begin to crowd each other out. Not all of them will survive. The ones on the bottom of the shell are at a particluar disadvantage. Once the oysters reach a certain size, they begin to peel off the surf clam shell and stick out.



Before the oysters grow too large and begin to grow into the plastic mesh bait bag, the bags must be broken open and put out into large trays on racks. This provides a little more room to grow and means less oysters will be broken and stuck to the bags. Here they can really start to take off and grow. At the end of summer or early fall, the oysters are loaded up in the boat and shoveled out to spread them over suitable habitat.



The oysters are put in a protected place where they can grow to legal size (three inches). They grow in clumps since they are still connected to that shell they set on.


Sometimes, they break apart on their own over time and make nicely shaped oysters. Other times, the harvester has to use some tools or simply just his/her hands to break up the clumps to separate the oysters and take home. Either way, all the hard work pays off and a delicious oyster is created! Perfect for frying.


Single Oysters in Bags or Trays

Oysters can also be set on tiny pieces of shell or even pieces of eggshell. If this is done, you won’t be able to see what the oyster originally set on so they can take on a beautiful shape.

These types of oysters are the types of marketable oysters that people may buy at a restaurant or seafood market. We also grow these oysters for our recreational shellfishers. Natural Resources does this in two ways depending on where the oysters are grown. The first way is the bag and rack system.


The bag and rack system is one way to protect the oysters from predators. The mesh “suitcase” bags are stapled to the rack in an intertidal area to hold the bag in place on the rack. These are periodically thinned as the oysters grow as to not overcrowd them.

The second way is the tray and rack system. Sometimes, the oysters are large enough already or can remain safely in open trays.


Either way, the oysters are cared for throughout the year until they reach an adequate size to be planted. At this point, the oysters are loaded up in the boat and free planted in suitable habitat along the shoreline. All we need is a shovel. Or if we forgot the shovel, a good pair of gloves and a long time to sprinkle them off the boat.





Dan Horn
P 508-790-6272
F 508-790-6275
1189 Phinney's Lane
Centerville, MA. 02632

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