Though not yet rivaling the industries in Massachusetts and Maine, oyster farmers in New Hampshire are gaining ground in their operations.
A decade ago, New Hampshire had only two licensed oyster farms. In recent years, operations have increased so that they're now at about 10 percent of its production potential.
According to USDA data from the 2017 Census on Agriculture, the state has expanded to 32 mollusk operations, primarily focused on oyster farming, which represent nearly $420,000 in sales.
Ray Grizzle, a researcher with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station, has been working to help new farmers increase production. Many of them are still in the nascent stage, as it can take about three years to yield results.
For farms that have been around for five years, however, many of them have grown to include more staff, as well as more sophisticated farming techniques. They use marketing outreach to wholesalers and local chefs.
According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, the nearly 440,000 oysters farmed last year represents a nearly 440 percent increase over the roughly 81,000 farmed in 2013.
Much of that improvement can be attributed to conservation efforts in the Great Bay Estuary region. The Nature Conservancy estimates that the roughly 1,000 acres of oyster reef that existed in 1970 declined due to unsanitary conditions as well as farming. Thanks to support funding from The Nature Conservancy and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the tide has turned.
According to estimates from the University of New Hampshire and The Nature Conservancy, more than 18 acres of reef and 3.5 million oysters have been restored to the system since 2009. In more recent years, the rate of growth has been roughly five acres and 1 million oysters restored annually.