As I prep for the mountain of oysters I’m about to eat this weekend on the Cape, I was lucky enough to have a call with Michele Insley, the Executive Director of Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, Inc. (SPAT), which is a non-profit that supports Wellfleet’s shell fishing and aquaculture industries, and the host of the Wellfleet Oysterfest! So fitting that “spat” is also the word for a baby oyster. The organization truly nurtures the industry in so many ways.
Here`s a moment with Michele.
Michele, tell me your story. How did you get involved with SPAT?
Michele: Well, I have been involved and have had experience with various nonprofits and nonprofit management. I’ve done programming and festivals, so it was a very natural thing to segue into this. I’ve learned everything I know about aquaculture on the job but I have always had a big interest in the natural world. I love working in nature and I’m a huge foodie, so it’s been a natural evolution! I have been with SPAT for 7 years. SPAT itself formed as a nonprofit in 2002, the year after the first Oysterfest. And even with the first Oysterfest, Wellfleet was fertile ground for it. It has a centuries-old tradition of shell fishing and aquaculture. Even the first explorers like Samuel de Champlain, came and called Wellfleet the “Port Aux Huitres”.
… So now we have over 100 farms and over 300 people employed in Wellfleet who are farming, harvesting and selling. 260 acres of our town’s inter-tidal areas that are dedicated to aquaculture grants that are town-owned, leased property that shell fishermen/women can farm on. In 2016, the economic output was about $6 million. That is a huge, significant industry for the tiny little village of Wellfleet, with a population of 2000-3000 people. It’s a large impact because, out of the entire Massachusetts shellfish industry, we are second largest producer of oysters.
Let’s talk about the origins of Oysterfest and SPAT.
Michele: The first Oysterfest originally started as a little hometown celebration, then grew to be this great promotional event that draws people all over the region to celebrate Wellfleet’s shellfish, oysters and clams. And that’s when SPAT was formed to ensure the sustainability of the Oysterfest and promote the industry. The event became so successful that we were able to begin giving grants and scholarships. In 2004, we started our first scholarship program with our local high school. We give $10,000 every year for a student that is going to school to study Marine Biology. We have given out about $105,000 in scholarships at this point. We have also awarded community grants. Collectively we’ve given out $422,000 in grants and scholarship money!
SPAT has also invested $125,000 in a local feed hatchery, and we’ve started a loan program for farmers who need to expand or start in the business.
And finally, what can we expect this year at Oysterfest?
Michele: It’s such a great time and has a lot to offer everyone. We’ll feature all the food from our local restaurants, along with the shell fisherman/women who have raw bars where you can really talk to the farmers. It’s a close-interaction event. We have local performers on the main stage, and will feature our annual oyster shucking competition. That’s really fun, really competitive, and so exciting to watch. What’s cool about that too is that’s it’s really only for professional shuckers at this point. The top three compete for prize money/trophies and the winner qualifies to compete in the National Oyster Shucking Competition in St. Mary’s County, MD. The winner of that then qualifies to go to the international competition in Galway, Ireland.
And there’s more… We will feature art and craft centers, and non-profits of our local marine organizations with informational booths. Then there are educational programs to go into smaller group settings for marine topics of interest. We have a talk on the Right Whales migration, one about sharks and getting comfortable with more of them, and a talk about the future of aquaculture. Lots of cool stuff!
We also have small programs in the culinary area. Chef Barbara Lynch is going to be doing an exciting program featuring her Butter Soup recipe. The idea is that we all love to have our shellfish with butter, right? We also have wine pairing sessions. This year we are excited to feature a tasting program on clams, too – trying them three ways: raw, steamed and clams casino. Clams get a little overshadowed by oysters but we wanted to highlight them in Wellfleet.
A last thing we shouldn’t miss…
Michele: One other thing! Our assistant shellfish constable is giving Shellfish Grant Tours of local farms. We will have one at 1:15 PM on Saturday and 2:00 PM on Sunday. Pop down to the pier, meet some farmers and get out on Mayo Beach! (Quick note from V – you know where to find me!)
Get a ticket!!
Are you attending? Do you want to? Here`s where to purchase a ticket. I’ll be there and I can’t wait to make some friends. Let me know if you want to connect!
Great article! Wish I could be there. But so happy to hear that the National Oyster Shucking Competition is in St. Mary’s County, MD!