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SC Oyster Co-op Aims to Build New Business, Pass on Old Wisdom

LEFT Pete Kornack holds a pair of wild harvested oysters. Wild South Carolina oysters grow in clusters, while farmed oysters are singles. CENTER The baby oysters are raised in tanks until they’re large enough to put in cages out in the ocean. RIGHT Jeff Massey shows how an oyster cage is constructed.

SC Oyster Co-op Aims to Build New Business, Pass on Old Wisdom

By Eva Moore

This story appears in the November 17, 2022 issue of the South Carolina Market Bulletin.

For the members of the Cape Romain Oyster Cooperative, farming oysters is the future.

Farming ensures a sustainable future for wild oyster populations.

It also means a sustainable future for the co-op members themselves. Gathering wild oysters is hard work, and many oystermen and other fishermen are aging.

The founding members hope their cooperative association will help them create a new stable line of business and serve new markets. The co-op will also encourage new, younger members to join the South Carolina seafood industry.

“In all the creeks, the [wild] oyster beds aren’t getting bigger. It’s a dwindling resource. So the future’s definitely in mariculture,” says co-op member Pete Kornack.

The co-op is being run out of the Livingston’s Bulls Bay Seafood dock in McClellanville, South Carolina, owned by co-op member Jeff Massey. Founded by Massey’s father-in-law, Livingston’s Bulls Bay Seafood is a wholesale and retail seafood dealer that sells fresh-caught seafood, farm-raises clams, gathers wild oysters, and sheds blue crabs during soft shell season.

The oyster farming co-op is something different, Massey explains – a way for local fishermen to work together.

“I just want to build something that might help to sustain this industry,” he says.

He and the other members had been wanting to start an oyster farming business, but it wasn’t until a scouting trip to Rhode Island that they realized they could adapt their existing equipment and use smaller cages to make it work.

The Livingston’s dock provides space for the co-op to raise the baby oysters until they’re large enough to put in underwater cages out in the waters around Bulls Bay and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. And Massey’s business will provide some built-in customers for the farmed oysters.

“It doesn’t do you any good to grow them if you can’t sell them,” Massey says.

The Cape Romain Oyster Cooperative was formed with the assistance of the South Carolina Center for Cooperative and Enterprise Development, a collaborative effort between the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, Clemson University Cooperative Extension, the South Carolina State Small Business Development Center and Matson Consulting.

Its members include longtime fishermen and newer fishermen. As the oyster farming business expands, they plan to take on new members.

The fast currents and high salinity of the waters off McClellanville will make for fast-growing, tasty oysters, according to the co-op members.

“I think these are the best waters for growing shellfish on the East Coast,” Massey says. “We’re out there at the edge of the ocean.”


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