With the help of five full-time locals and some additional seasonal help, Gargiulo says he plants somewhere between three and six million oysters every year. Not that Cotuit Oyster Company sells that many—they lose oysters by the hundreds of thousands, too. “It’s farming,” says Gargiulo. “But I like that risk and reward.”
The oyster farmers start with tiny seeds measuring between one and 1.5 millimeters across—about the thickness of a credit card. From here the bivalves go into a series of bags, starting with a floating upweller system, which workers call The Flupsy. A small, half-horsepower engine pumps water through the gates, allowing the minerals and rich nutrients—algae and phytoplankton, mostly—to pass through, feeding the seed oysters in a predator-free environment. After The Flupsy, Gargiulo and company use one of their rugged work skiffs to move the shellfish to a series of bags with increasingly large bore meshes, which hold the growing oysters. The oysters grow quickly at this stage. “It’s like Jiffy Pop,” says Gargiulo.
From seed to fully grown and market-ready, an oyster takes between 12 and 18 months. Gargiulo praises the clean, clear Cotuit water for the unique flavor of “Cotuits.” “Salinity is the key,” says Gargiulo. While oysters grown on the Cape are all from the same species, slight differences in salinity, mineral content, and mixing from freshwater springs produce different flavor combinations between Cotuits, Wellfeets, and Barnstable Harbors. Gargiulo says the salinity of Cotuit Bay water is between 28 and 29 parts per thousand—in other words, slightly less salty than oyster beds in other parts of the Cape.