Thieves have a new target: Raw oysters

Tens of thousands of shellfish have been stolen from their underwater beds in recent months as consumption of the tasty bivalves picks up.

By Bruce Kennedy Aug 5, 2013 7:46AM

File photo of a plate of oysters in Wellfleet, Mass. (Jennifer Day/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)How very shellfish of them.

Thieves have stolen tens of thousands of oysters from farmers in Cape Cod, Mass., in a series of recent break-ins. An underwater growing bed was raided last week in the seaside village of Marston Mills, with approximately 3,000 of the bivalves stolen.

Several weeks earlier, more than 20,000 mature and market-ready oysters with an estimated value of $15,000 were stolen from farms in the area around Dennis, Mass., located on the "bicep" of the Cape's flexed arm.

Oysters have been growing in popularity with foodies over the past several years. Monday is National Oyster Day, in fact. The Cape varieties are especially prized, so it's not surprising that someone would decide to help themselves to a bushel or two. But thefts on this scale are alarming the local fishing community and law enforcement.

"This has actually been going on for several years," oyster farmer John Lowell told the Wicked Local website. "It's an industry-wide problem, but Dennis farmers are seeing additional pressure at this time."

And Lowell is apparently concerned this may be an inside job. The thieves are organized. "You don’t just sell 20,000 oysters," he said. "Somebody has an outlet for a quick turnover to someone with knowledge of our industry.”

Oystering is a labor-intensive and painstaking business. It takes three years for an oyster to mature and grow to its premium, marketable size. The shellfish can be harvested in the wild -- "managed" by harvesters who clean existing oyster beds and space the oysters to reduce less-productive clustering -- or they can be cultivated by taking small oysters to man-made beds where they are tended and allowed to mature.

The revenue for oysters may be small compared to other agricultural sectors, but they're still substantial for the seafood industry. Data from the National Marine Fisheries Service says more than 28 million pounds of oyster meat, with a value of nearly $117.6 million, was "landed" in 2010. And over 7.5 million pounds of U.S. oysters, valued at $22.2 million, were exported in 2010 -- a 14% increase from 2009 figures. 

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries reports that in 2010, the state's 354 "aquaculturists" -- many along Cape Cod -- landed nearly 80,000 bushels of oysters valued at $8.6 million.

So in Cape Cod, which depends its traditional fishing businesses along with tourism for local revenue, these oyster thefts are being taken very seriously.

"When someone steals our harvest, they steal our livelihood and cause tremendous hardship to hardworking men and women," Lowell said. "The police are on it. It’s only a matter of time."

More on moneyNOW

 getting oysters from the beds to the boat is a lot of hard work and requires the proper equipment. my guess is that it is other oystermen raiding your bed.
Aug 5, 2013 11:39AM
A walrus and a carpenter have been taken into custody for questioning...
Aug 5, 2013 1:24PM

I blame the Pink Panther who has become partners in crime with whitey Bulger the guy that the Departed movie was about Whitey ate the oysters and the Pink guy was pearl hunting just go to

where the Departed group hangs out and sea who has air biscuits and a crate of lemons and some hot sauce and theres your guilty party .

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