Coming in Summer 2017! The Oyster Trail of Maine is still being developed. Maine Sea Grant is working with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Aquaculture Association, Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, the Maine Office of Tourism, and In A Half Shell to build an educational experience for visitors and residents. This page will be updated as more information becomes available and the Trail becomes “official.”
The American oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is native to Maine. Oysters were an important resource for the ancestors of the native Wabanaki people, as evidenced by ancient shell heaps like that at the Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site in Damariscotta.
Maine’s oyster populations declined as a result of environmental changes and pollution. Beginning in the 1970s, scientists with the University of Maine and the Department of Marine Resources developed ways to grow oysters and restore them to Maine estuaries.
Today, Maine’s oyster industry includes more than 50 farms along the coast from the Piscataqua River to Taunton Bay. Oysters are named after the location where they are grown, because their taste, size, and shape reflects local conditions like temperature, salinity, and the phytoplankton in the water, which oysters eat by filtering water through their gills.
Maine oyster farmers use a mix of traditional and modern methods to grow their products. Oysters require clean, cold water, and anywhere one finds an oyster farm is bound to be beautiful, whether up a tidal river, out in a bay, or along one of the coastal islands. Maine oyster farmers are hard-working, resourceful, and knowledgeable; some have opened their aquaculture operations to visitors.
Damariscotta River Cruises has a schedule of aquaculture tours aboard the 50' River Tripper, including live music cruises, oyster tastings, and other special trips.The
Nonesuch Oyster Company offers an informative tour of the nursery and growout sites in the Scarborough River.
Some aquaculture companies sell oysters directly from the farm; many seafood markets sell locally grown oysters. An ongoing list of retail outlets and restaurants that offer Maine oysters can be found in the Maine Oyster Trail map.
Maine oysters are sold under “brand” names that typically indicate the place where the oysters were grown, and this should be indicated at the point of sale. Ask the retailer or server for the origin of oysters if it is not provided.
Purchased oysters should be stored in the refrigerator, packed loosely and covered with a damp towel. Do not pack in ice, as the freshwater will kill the oysters. Eat within 7 days.
Oysters are filter-feeders and thus are vulnerable to bacterial pollution, chemical contamination, and harmful algal blooms (red tide), especially spring through fall. Oysters in the market and on the menu are safe, when purchased from a certified shellfish dealer. Check with the Department of Marine Resources for shellfish growing area closures; 1-800-232-4733 or 207-624-7727.
Eating raw oysters presents some risk of exposure to viruses and bacteria, especially for people with compromised immune systems.