island oyster Co., motors his vessel—
a former lobster boat retrofitted with a
solar-powered battery—from the dock
in the small, pretty town of Branford on
Connecticut’s central coast. He’s headed
to the 60 acres of long island Sound he
leases from the town, amid the thimble
islands, an archipelago of pink granite
rocks topped by luxury homes.
there, with the help of an ancient
winch, he’ll haul up cages, each containing roughly 500 golden-shelled thimble
island oysters, a meaty, salty-sweet variety that is among the most prized. Some
will go to a local wholesaler. others are
destined for the state’s first community-supported fishery, or CSF, a watery version of a CSa, which Smith runs with
pillaging the ocean. i saw the catch get
By contrast, Smith calls his current
vocation “the least-deadliest catch,” for
both him and the ocean. “i’m actually
improving the environment.”
at Smith’s harvest locations, the
cages also act as artificial reefs for other
animals. “i pull up blackfish, sea worms,
five or six species of crabs.”
Left: Bun Lai, owner of Miya’s, a sustainable sushi restaurant in New Haven, Conn. Right: Brendan Smith’s oyster boat amid the Thimble Islands.
his friend Bun lai, chef-owner of new
Haven’s sustainable sushi restaurant,
Miya’s. at about $1.25 apiece, the oysters
are a bargain for CSF members, but they
earn Smith more than the wholesale
price for his work.
“it’s real work,” says Smith, a compact
man owith a close-cropped beard and
blue eyes that reflect the water. “i’m constantly sorting, seeding, cleaning.” Still,
it’s easier than the jobs he did in his youth.
a native ne wfoundlander, Smith
dropped out of high school to fish but
later attended law school, which helps
him navigate the difficulties he faces in his
work with regard to sustainability issues.
“i did it all: long line, trawlers, crab-
bers,” he recalls. “it was my hunter-
gatherer period. We were raping and
“Every oyster on
your plate can
be traced to the
seed stock and
“Rather than go high volume,” he says,
“i’m expanding the plate”—most recently
by adding seaweed. With help from university of Connecticut seaweed expert
Charles Yarish, Smith and lai are farming
native sugar kelp in the waters over the
oyster beds. Fast growing and protein rich,
the kelp cleans the water as effectively as
oysters do, and it makes for a nutritious
and savory seaweed soup at Miya’s.
“i had wanted to do just oysters. But as
i learned the geography of food resources
here, i changed the plan,” says Smith.
He looks out across the island-studded bay. though he’s thinking of
his own 60 acres, he could be speaking
of the entire healthy farming movement: “this has become such a creative
space,” he says.