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CRONKITE: The oystering industry is one of Connecticut’s agricultural success stories. From the mid to late-19th century, oysters were the hamburger of their day and Norwalk oystermen were among the nation’s most successful.

At the turn of the 20th Century Connecticut could boast of having the largest fleet of steam powered oyster boats in the world, with many of those boats built in Connecticut 

JOHN VOLK  (Dir., Ct Bureau of Aquaculture) In recent years really Connecticut has become sort of the top of the shell pile in oyster production in the U.S.  We have a little more than 30 businesses that are involved in culturing oysters in Connecticut.  Annually we produce about 50 to 60 million dollars worth of oysters.

Our bureau of aquaculture works very closely with the shellfish industry. We do all the water testing to assure where they’re growing and harvesting shellfish is safe for – for consumption. We lease them the submerged land. We license and inspect all their operations.  We carry out, with industry assistance, the planting of kulch, the clean oyster shell, to improve the conditions on oyster beds.

CRONKITE: Norwalk’s Tallmadge Brothers, which started in the 1870s  is the largest single oyster company in the United States with about 22,000 acres of oyster grounds. Captain Dave Hopp has worked for Tallmadge Brothers for more than 35 years.

DAVE HOPP (Capt., Tallmadge Bros. Oysters): My great grandfather, grandfather were all oystermen and I kind of got into it with them.

Today we caught a load of market sized oysters, off a bed. The oysters are approximately 4 years old. They’re originally from Bridgeport; they’ve been transplanted three times since they set on the… beds. Early July we plant kulch which is old oyster shells that have been dried on the beach. …The oyster spawns, the larvae swims in the water, young oyster. It finally settles after about 14 days onto these clean shells. They grow their own shell from the clean shell that they set on. And the following year we move them to another area where we spread them out so they’ll grow properly and make the nice oyster that you eat on a half shell.

CRONKITE: Oysters, like any agricultural crop, are subject to environmental conditions, various pests and predators. The industry is presently battling a killer parasite.

Many in the state, like Edward Lang,  are part-time oyster farmers. Lang has been an oysterman since 1977.

EDWARD LANG (Part-time Oyster Farmer):  This is called Fence Creek and it’s in the town of Madison, and it’s important because it’s an ideal habitat for growing oysters. And I lease this area from the Town of Madison Shellfish Commission and for the past 10 years I’ve been raising seed oysters in there. And although you can see we’re in the middle of a marsh here, just across the street, maybe 500 feet to the other side of the street is Long Island Sound.

Unfortunately, we got hit with a double parasite: Dermo and MSX and the oyster bed which was packed with live oysters.  Unfortunately, about 80 or 90 percent of them are dead.  And, for example, there’s a shell that was in here last year that had an oyster set on it …it’s absolutely covered with baby oysters, probably 15, 16 oysters on here. Unfortunately, every one of them has died.

Normally it takes 4, 5 years for an oyster to grow from a set to a market size oyster and all of my mature oysters have, 90 percent of them have perished, so probably I won’t have a marketable crop for at least 4 or 5 years if the disease goes away.


CRONKITE: Non-agricultural commercial maritime activity has  also long been important to the state. Today, large ports are being upgraded in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport. To promote its ports, the state of Connecticut has undertaken a centralized marketing and planning initiative.

The port in New London, the only facility actually owned by the state, has lumber as its  major cargo activity.  In New Haven, a major oil importing seaport,  automobile scrap is regularly exported to Asia.  And In Bridgeport, banana boats come in on a weekly basis from Colombia delivering bananas for distribution as far west as the Midwest and as far north as Canada.

Privately-owned marine trade businesses are also a significant component of Connecticut's maritime economy.  Some businesses, such as netmaking and sailmaking, echo back to the early days of seafaring Connecticut.

But more often, the type of maritime business has evolved, primarily reflecting the growth of recreational boating.

Since the early 1940s, one such business that has prospered is the marina.  Today, the shoreline and rivers are dotted with about 175 marinas, hosting thousands of pleasure boats.

Dick Thayer has been in the marina business since 1974.

DICK THAYER (Owner, Thayer’s Marine) had, you know, he had to support nine people so during the war he became a machinist and he also became a fisherman so he could stay out of the draft.  So I learned boat building, I learned skills, I learned how to fish and I just kept on going.

You gotta be very versatile. You gotta do it all. You gotta build, you gotta weld, you gotta be a ship-fitter, you gotta be a pipe-fitter, you gotta be a machinist.  And the biggest thing you gotta do is you’ve gotta be a good troubleshooter.

We sell bait, we sell tackle.  We sell hardware, we sell all the oils and all the chemicals that are needed to clean your boats.  We sell boats, we sell trailers.  We do a lot of electrical work. We take and we build hulls, we do a lot of repower so if somebody needs power by the weekend, I could get them back in the water for the weekend.  Everybody wants a boat. Everybody when the weather is like it is here everybody wants a boat.  The recreational person likes to take a boat, sit on it, enjoy the weather, enjoy the atmosphere and maybe just tool around, but they’ll plan a trip, at least one trip a year they’ll plans something.  The fisherman, his boat’s got to be ready. He wants to fish.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012