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oyster farmer with gloved hand holds two oysters while on a boat at his oyster farm site

New Hampshire's Oysters

THE STATE OF OUR OYSTER AQUACULTURE INDUSTRY

The ebb and flow of New Hampshire’s two estuaries, the Great Bay Estuary and Hampton-Seabrook Estuary, drive unique and diverse ecosystems that support the Granite State’s tradition of oyster aquaculture.

Oyster aquaculture 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.

Oyster aquaculture supports the state’s Blue Economy, providing revenue and jobs as well as valuable ecosystem services in our coastal waters.

Commercial oyster harvest in New Hampshire is conducted exclusively using aquaculture methods. No wild harvest.


The American (or Eastern) Oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is harvested in New Hampshire.


Oyster aquaculture is permitted and carefully managed by NH Fish and Game Dept.

 

icon of an oyster shell


By the Numbers: New Hampshire’s Oyster Industry 

Infographic for 78.4 acres of oyster farms in NH's coastal waters and estuaries
Infographic for 584,153 oysters harvested in NH last year (2019)
Infographic for $3.2 million in revenue generated through oyster-related activities in NH in 2019
Infographic for 28.5 acres of oyster reef restored in NH since 2009
Infographic for 600% growth in value of NH oyster aquaculture since 2013
Infographic for 13 oyster farms actively harvesting market-sized oysters in NH in 2019

Important Sites for NH Oysters

1. Great Bay 

2. Little Bay

3. Hampton Harbor

map of New Hampshire's Atlantic coastline and Great Bay Estuary with three numbered markers of important sites for oysters

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 Hampton Harbor 

Of the 78.4 acres farmed in NH:

  • 73.9 acres farmed in Little Bay
  • 4.5 acres farmed in Hampton Harbor 

Between 2013-2019:

  • 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?

View/Download our Oyster Shucking Guide

oyster farmer with boat full of harvested oysters in totes
freshly harvested oysters on the deck of a vessel

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.


Questions?

Arron Jones
Aquaculture Program Manager
NH Sea Grant
arron.jones@unh.edu