Over the past decade, Maine’s oyster industry has experienced immense growth. 2021 was the state’s largest and most valuable harvest in history, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources. In 2011, Maine oysters were worth $1.3 million at the docks. Now that figure has risen to $10 million. And the Damariscotta River is playing a big role in Maine oysters’ popularity worldwide.
Ryan McPherson bought Glidden Point Oyster Farm in Edgecomb in 2015. The Massachusetts native had worked in the fisheries industry for several years before deciding to venture north into an exploding Maine oyster farm business. “Yes, oysters grown in the Damariscotta are known worldwide for their quality. I was looking for a home in the fisheries industry when I decided to pursue becoming a part of the Damariscotta River aquaculture,” he said.
For McPherson, the Damariscotta River oysters’ popularity is due to a distinctively briny taste not found outside of the northeastern U.S. McPherson credits the river’s estuary, which includes both fresh and salt water, as key to creating such a unique taste. “The Great Salt Bay fuels it all. There are also two daily tidal exchanges bringing in enough algae to feed oysters in the whole river,” he said.
Glidden Point has also made several key strategic decisions in growing a popular, distinctively flavored oyster. McPherson leased several locations along the river which he believes where optimal for growing. “We picked places where the seeds would grow well, and there is a five-mile stretch where all those elements come together making it an ideal setting.”
In recent years, the pandemic and the labor shortage have plagued other industries. But poor economic conditions haven’t hampered his operation. Last year, Glidden Point harvested 800,000 oysters. This year, McPherson expects 600,000. “It’s down, but that is probably due to over harvesting. Demand, especially from oyster bars, remains strong. We are working on a harvest goal of a million,” he said.
Glidden Point operates from May until mid-October. The farm employs three full-time and three part-time divers. There are also 15 employees as part of the entire operation. McPherson reports divers gather 90% of the harvest and dragging accounts for the rest. “Fortunately, we really haven’t had any problems with labor. We are a small staff. If we need any help, then workers come down from the farm store to pitch in,” he said.
One of Glidden Point’s employees is Sarah Vanacore who joined the company in 2019. She is a University of Maine graduate with a marine science degree and a concentration in aquaculture. Vanacore enjoys her work. She learned about the job during her graduate studies. “I understand all the science behind it, but I’ve learned so much more working here,” she said.
Glidden Point remains mostly the same as when McPherson bought it. But there have been a few changes. The business now includes a farm store and daily tours. Operations Manager Allyson Blake implemented the store in 2020 due to the pandemic. The store has separate windows for orders and pickups. Pre-COVID, customers were on the honor system. “Customers walked into a room, maybe had a conversation with farm workers, and grabbed oysters out of the refrigerator. There were gloves, condiments available, and hopefully people would leave some money.”
Farm tours were established to satisfy customers’ curiosity for the emerging Midcoast aquaculture industry. For $10 per person, an hour guided tour provides guests with the history of the farm and oyster industry, and an aquaculture overview. “It’s great so many people want to come here and see what we do,” Blake said. They arrive, and the tours connects them with what’s on their plate and where it comes from.”
On July 13, the Thompson family of Waskom, Texas toured the farm. The family escaped 104F temperatures at their East Texas home to vacation in the Northeast. Monica Thompson had never heard of Glidden Point Oyster Farm or Edgecomb prior to finding it on a recent internet search. “Oysters from the Gulf of Mexico are plentiful in East Texas, but we prefer oysters from other places.” Monica Thompson said.
The Thompsons ventured to Edgecomb so they could experience an aquaculture farm tour. “We were looking for places to tour with our kiddos when we found this,” she said. “We enjoy oysters from different parts of the country at home and the discussion about aquaculture looked interesting.”
The farm at 637 River Road adopted another change in 2020. McPherson received a license to sell beer and wine. Glidden Point Oyster Farm is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.