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Wellfleet Oyster Festival 2012: More than Just Fun for the Family

Promotes Recycling, Improved Water Quality and Creation of Oyster Habitat

By Sheila Jarnes, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement

Crowds at Oyster Festival.  Photo credit: Carli Bertrand, NOAA

The annual Wellfleet Oyster Festival was a great success in its 12th year! The festival brought an estimated 25,000 visitors to the small town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and has become a mainstay for the local economy and tourism. Since the OysterFest began, NOAA  Fisheries has helped to organize the festival.  Representatives from six agency divisions participated this year.

While OysterFest has recycled the shells for five years, in previous years, the collected shells were overwintered and returned to Wellfleet Bay in the spring. However, 2011 marked the first year that the city of Wellfleet was given approval by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to return the shells to the bay immediately following the festival.  This year, organizers recaptured 5.2 tons of oyster shells, removing 43% from the solid waste stream (which was also recycled). 

About 100,000 oysters were consumed at Oysterfest. However, by recycling the shells, 600,000 small oysters that remain on the shell, called spat, were returned to the harbor. 

Allison McHale (Communications) helps out at NOAA booth. Photo credit: Sheila Jarnes, NOAA. 

 Based on recent surveys, the cultch, or pile of shells that make up an oyster bed, has added habitat for approximately 60 million new oysters, or 15 times the annual harvest rate.  It also increases water filtration in Wellfleet Harbor by nearly 3 billion gallons per day. 

The Town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts and Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, otherwise known as ” SPAT” organize the Wellfleet Oysterfest each year and have an educational mission, awarding over $100,000 in scholarships, mainly to local residents.

Oysterfest's recycling team efforts were recently awarded the Municipal Innovation Award at  the 17th Annual Mass Recycle Awards.  The Town and SPAT's effort is supported in part by contributions from NOAA Fisheries, USDA/NRCS, SPAT, the Mass Oyster Project and Mass Division of Marine Fisheries, Wellfleet's shellfishing men and women, the Department of Public Works and the Wastewater Committee.

NOAA Fisheries is proud  to collaborate with the Town of Wellfleet, SPAT, and other partners, and looks forward to another exciting event next year!