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.
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.
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
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!
- 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
- First, ferment the jalapeño and serrano peppers in one cup of water and a teaspoon of sugar for about two weeks.
- 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.
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