Oysters

oysters in hand 1

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.

orange oyster

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

80.4 acres

Area of oyster farms in NH's coastal waters and estuaries

830,933

Oysters harvested in NH in 2021

$4.7 million

Economic benefit of oyster aquaculture in NH in 2021

28.5

Acres of oyster reef restored in NH since 2009
 

909%

Growth in value of NH oyster aquaculture since 2013

14

Oyster farms actively harvesting market-sized oysters in NH


nh coastal map

Important Sites for NH Oysters

  1. Great Bay
  2. Little Bay
  3. 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 12 businesses actively harvesting market-sized oysters in NH in 2020:

  • 11 operate in Little Bay
  • 1 operates in Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary

Of the 80.4 acres farmed in NH:

  • 73.9 acres farmed in Little Bay
  • 6.5 acres farmed in Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary 

Between 2013-2019:

  • 909% increase in the value of NH’s oyster harvest
  • 113% annual growth rate of harvest value 

Benefits to the Ecosystem

oysters in boat

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.

In 2021, the oysters farmed by NH’s aquaculture industry contributed $3.7 million in ecosystem services to the estuarine environment by filtering excess nutrients, like nitrogen, out of our coastal waters.

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 assessment

    NH oyster farmers stocked over 6 million juvenile seed oysters in 2021.

History and Tradition

oysters on deck

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

View/Download an oyster shucking guide    

Contact

Linas Kenter, Ph.D.
Aquaculture Extension Specialist
linas.kenter@unh.edu

Credits

Content for this page was compiled collaboratively by the NH Shellfish Farmers Initiative and NH Sea Grant.

Click here for a PDF Fact Sheet version of this page.

Data and statistics were made available by the NH Fish and Game Department, The Nature Conservancy - NH, and NH Sea Grant.