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Tide to Table Profile: Swell Oyster Co.

September 23, 2022

Swell Oyster Co. grows oysters, bay scallops, and clams in the working waterfront town of Hampton Harbor, New Hampshire.

A hand holding four Swell Oysters in the shell. The four oysters are market-size and take up the person's entire hand. Market-size Atlantic Oysters, grown by Swell Oyster Co. of Hampton Harbor, New Hampshire. Credit: Swell Oyster Co.

Owned by “two surfers who love the ocean,” Swell Oyster Co. is the first and only oyster farm in Hampton Harbor, New Hampshire. 

Co-founders Conor Walsh and Russ Hilliard met as they were earning their undergraduate aquaculture degrees from the University of Rhode Island. While working at the well-known oyster bar, Row 34, the two decided that shellfish aquaculture was the perfect pairing of their interests: sustainability and being on the water.

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Thick ropes are used by an aquaculture worker to pull oyster "condos" out of the water alongside his boat.
In the middle of winter, an oyster "condo" (a type of oyster aquaculture gear) is hauled up from the water. It is full of market-sized oysters that will be harvested, sorted by size, and distributed. Credit: Swell Oyster Co.

Theirs is the first and only shellfish farm in Hampton Harbor, and the first and only to be permitted in New Hampshire for “suspended aquaculture.” This means that they can have gear in the top of the water column, and bottom culture (in which the shellfish are placed either directly on the seafloor or in bottom cages).

“We are proudly farming the first Atlantic Oyster to have ever been commercially grown in Hampton Harbor. This means Swell Oyster Co. is developing an oyster flavor profile that has never been tasted,” boasts Hilliard. The farm has now diversified to include bay scallops, littleneck clams, and soft shell clams.

A Focus on Sustainability

“The area that is now our farm site used to be completely desolate at low tide,” states Hilliard. “Our shellfish are a meaningful addition to the estuary. Each oyster is filtering 50 gallons of water per day, recirculating the water and making the harbor more habitable.”

The estuary has seen a significant increase in wildlife that dwell in the aquaculture gear, including feeding on oyster fragments that fall in the water. “We see striped bass, flounder, baby lobsters, hermit crabs, and other animals thriving around our gear,” notes Hilliard.

From Farm to Table

Swell’s retail space, the Swell Oyster Shack, makes it the first and only farm in New Hampshire to have a brick-and-mortar site. In addition to Swell’s oysters and bay scallops, the Shack sells oysters from other New England farms, caviar, fish pâté, lobster sliders, and sea scallops from farms throughout New England.

Swell Oyster Co. products are available for shipping or farm pick up, and sold locally to restaurants. Catering, farm tours, and an online shop are also offered.

Fun Facts

The entire farm becomes fully exposed twice a day at low tide; it becomes walkable and can be worked by staff. According to Hilliard, this is a good time to accomplish several tasks:

  • Shaking bags: taking a mesh bag that the oysters are growing in and physically shaking the bag in order to chip off some of the oysters’ new growth, which encourages the shells to grown downward and form a deeper cup
  • Raking trays: taking the backside of a dirt rake and "raking" the oysters around in the trays to chip new growth
  • Decreasing densities: as oysters grow and take up more space in the trays, some oysters are moved to a new tray in order to maximize water flow and food availability
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At low tide, Swell Oyster Co. staff are standing in waist-high water, working on the oyster gear. They are surrounded by oyster aquaculture gear.
At low tide, Swell Oyster Co. staff work a gear method called ‘rack and bag.’ They shake the bags to promote the uniform growth of the oysters. On the left and right side of the rack and bag section are oyster trays. Credit: Swell Oyster Co.

Recipe: Swell Oyster Shack’s “Secret Sauce”

The "Secret Sauce'' is made by Conor's dad, Chef Brendan Walsh. He grows his own jalapeño and serrano peppers to make this spicy fermented mignonette. Remember to ferment the peppers ahead of time! 

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A newly sealed bottle of Swell Oyster Co.'s Secret Sauce. It is labeled using masking tape and Sharpie marker.
Originator of the Secret Sauce, Chef Brendan Walsh, recommends using homegrown peppers to create this oyster mignonette. Credit: Swell Oyster Co.

Ingredients:

  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 1 serrano pepper
  • ¼ shallot, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup white wine (such as Chablis)
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar
  • Pinch of salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. First, ferment the jalapeño and serrano peppers in one cup of water and a teaspoon of sugar for about two weeks.
  2. After two weeks, remove the peppers and blend them in a food processor. Add in the finely chopped shallot, champagne vinegar, white wine, and salt to taste.

Sources:

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 ecosystem stewardship, coastal communities, and economic opportunities

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Last updated by Office of Aquaculture on September 26, 2022