For my internship, I worked with the Matunuck Oyster Farm. I was responsible for helping with day to day operations that are essential to having a successful farm and consistent product. My main daily task was to sort the oysters into appropriate size categories, and to remove predators from the harvest (crabs, starfish, etc.). Once the oysters were sorted into different sizes they were put into totes, receptacles used to move the oysters more efficiently. Then, after this process was done, I was part of a team who put the oysters back into hard plastic mesh “bags”; I shook each bag vigorously to help the oysters knock together and promote a deeper cup. Matunuck is known for having small but deep oysters that have a unique taste and I was partly responsible for keeping up this consistency. The bags had to be put back out onto the specific lines of the oyster farm. The placement and density of the bags (oysters per bag) were very important pieces of the process. There was great attention to detail because the bags all had to be put down into the water the same way and have almost exactly the same amount of oysters in each. Oysters will actually fight for nutrients in the bags, and if there are too many oysters some will die and negatively affect consistency. Because of this, I had to make sure every bag was spread out evenly to discourage fighting for nutrients and to decrease the mortality rate.
About a month into the internship we started to use a machine to sort the smaller oysters that were too numerous to sort by hand. The machine was a tumbler that had increasingly smaller holes in it as it got towards the end. The tumbler was set at an angle so the oysters would be put in at the top, then be spun around to fall through the holes that corresponded with their size category. The machine had four size categories (1 through 4) and the oysters fell directly into the corresponding tote for their size. Another employee named Frank and I ran the tumbler and realized that it was incredibly inefficient. At the beginning of the time we started using the tumbler, there was actually a third employee who helped check for consistency because the machine had some fatal flaws. The oysters that were sizes 3 and 4 would end up in the same tote, and many oysters fell out of the machine before we even ran them through it. Frank and I took a few hours during one day we were running the machine to try to improve the efficiency. We only used free scrap materials, but when we were finished there were almost no category 3 oysters in the category 4 tote, there were almost no oysters falling out of the machine, and we did not need a third employee to help. By eliminating a third of the labor, we greatly improved efficiency and freed up help for other tasks on the farm.
Although my internship is more marine affairs or aquaculture based, the efficiency problem (with the tumbler machine) that I tackled is relevant to my major. Also, having had no prior experience with aquaculture, more specifically an oyster farm, I had never thought of it as a career path for myself. After finishing the experience, there is nothing more that I would like my profession to be than owning and operating an oyster farm. Being outside and doing important hands on work is a dream for me, and this may be my way to make that happen.
By: Zachary Staub
December 18th, 2014