The ebb and flow of New Hampshire’s two estuaries, the Great Bay Estuary and Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary, drive unique and diverse ecosystems that support the Granite State’s tradition of oyster aquaculture.
Oyster aquaculture, carefully managed by the NH Fish and Game Department, is currently the fastest growing seafood industry in New Hampshire.
In recent years, the growth and expansion of oyster farming has helped to keep New Hampshire’s rich maritime culture alive as an alternative to wild-harvest marine fisheries, which have experienced declines throughout the Gulf of Maine. New Hamphire harvests the American (or Eastern) oyster - Crassostrea virginica.
Oyster aquaculture supports the state’s Blue Economy, providing revenue and jobs as well as valuable ecosystem services in our coastal waters. The commercial oyster harvest in New Hampshire is conducted exclusively using aquaculture methods. No wild harvest.
By the numbers: New Hampshire's Oyster Industry
Area of oyster farms in NH's coastal waters and estuaries
Oysters harvested in NH last year
Revenue generated through oyster-related activities in NH in 2019
Acres of oyster reef restored in NH since 2009
Growth in value of NH oyster aquaculture since 2013
Oyster farms actively harvesting market-sized oysters in NH
Important Sites for NH Oysters
- Great Bay
- Little Bay
- Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary
NH Oyster Harvesting Efforts
Great Bay is open to recreational oystering and oyster reef restoration activities. Commercial oyster aquaculture and harvest occur in Little Bay and Hampton Harbor.
Of the 13 businesses actively harvesting market-sized oysters in NH in 2019:
- 12 operate in Little Bay
- 1 operates in Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary
Of the 78.4 acres farmed in NH:
- 73.9 acres farmed in Little Bay
- 4.5 acres farmed in Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary
- 604% increase in the value of NH’s oyster harvest
- 100.7% annual growth rate of harvest value
Benefits to the Ecosystem
As filter feeders, oysters are key to maintaining the health and nutrient balance of our local, coastal ecosystems.
1 oyster filters up to 50 gallons of water per day! Filtration removes suspended particles – feeding the oysters and creating clearer, cleaner water.
The shellfish aquaculture industry in the Great Bay Estuary annually contributes $1.4 million in ecosystem services to the estuarine environment by removing excess nutrients from the estuary. (Source: NOAA Center for Coastal Monitoring Assessment study)
NH’s oyster farmers regularly contribute to scientific research projects with NH Sea Grant and UNH, such as:
- Monitoring the bay and oyster health with UNH researchers
- Exploring new harvest methods, gear types and configurations in oyster aquaculture
- Participating in oyster reef restoration and assessmen
NH oyster farmers are planning to stock over 4.5 million juvenile seed oysters this year (2020).
History and Tradition
New Hampshire’s indigenous tribal communities consumed many varieties of shellfish, including oysters, and much of their mollusk diet is recorded in their shell heaps (called middens) which date back 2,500 years.
Wild oysters were later an easy, valuable source of protein and trade commodity for European settlers and colonists.
By the late 1800’s, pollution, sedimentation, over-harvesting, and disease left only a fraction of New Hampshire’s wild oyster population.
Today, recreational oyster harvesting is carefully regulated and commercial harvesting can only be performed by licensed farmers who import approved seed oysters.
How to Shuck an Oyster
Michael Chambers, Ph.D.
Aquaculture Extension Specialist
Content for this page was compiled collaboratively by the NH Shellfish Farmers Initiative and NH Sea Grant.
Data and statistics were made available by the NH Fish and Game Department, The Nature Conservancy - NH, and NH Sea Grant.