One of the first oyster farms in New England is in Duxbury Bay, a spot that has curiously never had a wild oyster population. Skip Bennett started Island Creek, named after the Duxbury neighborhood where he grew up, about 30 years ago. The son of a lobsterman, he was a fisherman who began testing the waters of aquaculture by growing clams. When a parasite killed his clams, he switched to oysters. Bennett then discovered that Duxbury Bay is ideal for oyster farming. Chris Sherman proclaimed, “It was like stumbling into Napa Valley.”
Bennett continued as a fisherman and part-time oyster farmer until 2000, when he harvested enough oysters to make Island Creek his full-time job. Chris Sherman joined Island Creek in 2009, working his way up from farm crew to marketing director to CEO. Before joining Island Creek, the Duxbury native commuted by boat to his boatyard job, apprenticed with a wooden boat builder, and worked as a professional sailor. Bennett and Sherman are businessmen who share a devotion to a “salt-washed life.”
Since the early 2000s, Island Creek has grown into a recognizable brand with a wide distribution. In addition to the farm, the company runs its own shellfish hatchery, retail store, raw bar, and full-service restaurant, The Winsor House, in Duxbury. They also have a retail store and quick-service restaurant called The Shop in Portland, Maine. They offer summer farm tours where visitors can follow the oysters from microscopic larvae through harvest. Their oysters have been praised by chefs and food critics alike and were even served at the White House! Island Creek has put Duxbury on the map as an oyster destination.
Island Creek is dedicated to growing food that is good for people and the environment. “This is back-of-the-napkin math, but if we assume that we have about 50 million oysters in Duxbury Bay, and an adult oyster filters about 30 to 50 gallons per day, then our oysters can filter Duxbury Bay about every 10 days,” Chris proudly shared. “Our farm is dependent on a healthy marine ecosystem, but the oysters also improve the ecosystem and benefit the community.”
From Tide to Table
“Right now, we’re in an oyster renaissance. Oysters used to be a mainstay of the East Coast diet until wild stocks were depleted. When oyster farms started producing a consistent supply, there was already demand and they really boomed,” Sherman shared.
“Oysters are such an expression of where they come from. The natural conditions of Duxbury Bay produce a unique flavor profile,” he explained. Upwelling makes the bay much colder than nearby Cape Cod, with full ocean salinity. There is no historical record of wild oysters in Duxbury Bay, likely because the water is too cold for spawning. Because of this, all Island Creek oysters begin their lives in a hatchery. They devote their energy to growth year round, lending a unique taste. “The conditions here are unrepeatable,” said Sherman.
Caring for the Climate
Island Creek Oysters recognized early on that climate change could impact their business. That’s why they are a founding member of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition, a group of small business owners at the forefront of environmental change that have banded together to drive policy.
While climate change is global, Island Creek is also concerned about local impacts including runoff from increasing storms, coastal acidification, and the effects of increasing coastal development.
Chris Sherman explained, “Everyone is concerned about nature having impacts on their livelihood, but for us that’s our daily existence. We come to work everyday and respond to whatever curveball mother nature throws at us. Lately it’s more frequent and curvy curveballs. As farmers we have more control compared with wild harvesters. We can breed oysters to respond to a changing environment.”
Aquaculture Fun Fact
Island Creek recently built a cannery in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It is one of very few seafood canneries on the East Coast. Chris Sherman explained, “This is a novel way to make our products more accessible and shelf stable when we harvest at peak seasonality. We’re the only ones using the European tin format.” Their first canned product contains surfclams grown out on their farm to 2 inches. Each tin contains 20 to 30 surfclams in oil, chili, and garlic.
Recipe: Driveway Clams
“When we had a company Christmas party at our old shop, I would cook out in the driveway. I got this recipe from our chef at Island Creek Oyster Bar and simplified it to make it more approachable," said Sherman.
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- 4 links of chorizo
- Chopped scallions
- Fire up the stovetop and heat a large saucepan
- Pour in a few tablespoons of olive oil
- Add two cloves chopped garlic
- Drop in four links of cut chorizo
- Throw in a handful of chopped scallions
- Add a bucket of clams
- Pour in a few beers, preferably something local, and stir.
- Cover and steam until the clams start to open up.
- Sprinkle in Old Bay seasoning.
- Add a lot more olive oil.
- Toss in a bounty of chopped parsley and the juice of three lemons.
- Stir again.
- Serve with toasted bread. Seriously, don’t forget the bread!
Learn to cook it yourself with this easy steamed clam recipe video from Island Creek Oysters.
Sustainable Seafood from Tide to Table
The Tide to Table series profiles members of the aquaculture community who provide valuable jobs and increase access to fresh, sustainably sourced American seafood. Aquaculture is more than seafood production. It is about ecosystem stewardship, coastal communities, and economic opportunities.