The first annual Damariscotta Oyster Celebration (DOC) is summoning chefs, buyers, and oyster lovers from across the United States and Canada to showcase the Damariscotta region of Maine. The event is the brainchild of Taste Maine’s Future, an initiative of O’Maine Studios seeking to unify Maine’s farming sectors, promote tourism and sustainable aquaculture, and elevate Maine’s food system brand.
Damariscotta is a renowned region praised by oyster lovers for producing top quality oysters. The Damariscotta River has a fertile bottom and warm waters, ideal conditions for bottom planting oysters. This low-cost, high-efficiency method ensures slow growth, strong shells, and rich flavor, making Damariscotta oysters some of the best in the world.
But, like many ecosystems, the Damariscotta River faces challenges due to climate change. Ocean acidification is of particular concern to oyster farmers, because a low pH decreases levels of carbonate ions that oysters need to make strong shells. Concerns like these are encouraging cooperation between science organizations and oyster farmers to maintain and innovate Damariscotta’s oyster industry. UMaine Darling Marine Center, located on the Damariscotta River, is at work on scientific innovations to address acidification, including Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA).
“A key reason to invite the Oyster world here is that the scientific commitment and harvest practices on the Damariscotta River have the potential to change aquaculture around the world,” says Rory Strunk, founder, and CEO of O’Maine Studios. The culture of collaboration in other food system powerhouses like Alaska and Vermont inspire the efforts to unify the Damariscotta oyster industry. “Timing and the spirit of a team approach with Damariscotta growers is the whole reason why this effort is attracting chefs and oyster influencers from around the world.”
The Damariscotta region boasts an oyster culture dating back to 200 B.C., and the collaborative effort behind this celebration indicates that this culture is stronger today than ever. Festivities occur June 14-16 and notable chefs from all over North America will participate in events throughout the weekend to show their support for Damariscotta. “Chefs play a huge role in impacting consumer demand,” says Strunk. “Now more than ever, the chef and the consumer want to know the ‘story,’ which includes where products are from and how products are sustainably harvested. The story becomes organic when you take the chef to source and let them meet the people, and see the harvesting practices first-hand.”