Voices From the Waterfront

Meet Oyster Farmer Perry Raso

Perry Raso.

Oyster farmer Perry Raso sells oysters he cultivates in a salt pond -- Matunuck Oyster Farm -- in Rhode Island.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

This week, NOAA released a draft national policy to encourage the growth of aquaculture, or sustainable marine fish farming. Aquaculture is the farming of marine organisms such as shellfish, finfish and algae to boost the supply of healthy seafood, create jobs in coastal communities, spur innovation and help restore depleted fish species.

In this month’s “Voices from the Waterfront,” meet Perry Raso, an oyster farmer and owner of Matunuck Oyster Farm, who has been growing oysters in a Rhode Island salt pond since 2002. Two years ago, Raso also opened Matunuck Oyster Bar, a seafood restaurant next door.


How did you get interested in aquaculture?

I started commercially digging little neck clams in junior high school. I was studying marine biology at the University of Rhode Island [URI] when I took an aquaculture course and decided this was for me.

Perry Raso speaks with Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee.

Perry Raso speaks with Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee at Raso's restaurant, Matunuck Oyster Bar, when the governor and his family just happened to stop in for lunch on January 22.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

What helped you start your own aquaculture business?

Undergraduate and graduate degrees in aquaculture and fisheries from URI gave me the technical background. Other shellfish growers helped me start my oyster farm.

A grant from an initiative by Sen. Jack Reed that was administered by RI Sea Grant enabled me to teach the realities of aquaculture while I started up my farm. That was helpful when I wasn't making anything from the farm in the early years.

Why did you choose to grow oysters?

They’re not like fish that can escape. I’m able to grow them in a body of water I’m familiar with. Oysters are also high-quality seafood that demands a good price. I didn’t get into aquaculture because it’s environmentally sustainable, but it really helps when your  business benefits the environment — shellfish filter the water and leave salt ponds cleaner.

Why did you expand into the restaurant business?

I’d seen a number of restaurants come and go here. I decided to give it a try. If it didn’t work, I planned to use the property for a hatchery or a seafood market. But, the restaurant has taken off.

Have your businesses created jobs for Rhode Islanders?

I have seven men who work full time tending the oyster farm. In total, I employed 130 people full- or part-time at the restaurant this past year. This number really surprised me.

Oyster farmer Perry Raso shucks oysters.

Oyster farmer Perry Raso shucks oysters at his restaurant, Matunuck Oyster Bar, in Rhode Island.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

How has your oyster farm changed since you started it in 2002?

The farm has grown from 1.3 acres to 7 acres. Production has grown to about 500,000 oysters a year. We’re selling different size oysters and oyster seed to other farmers. We’re also involved in a restoration project to bring back oysters to Potter Pond.

What’s the daily work of the farm like?

My crew heads out in the skiff in the morning to tend to the plastic mesh bags of oysters that sit on racks below the surface. It’s all about keeping the right stocking density, or amount of oysters, in each bag. Once the bags reach a certain density, the oysters need to be separated into different bags until the point when they reach market size. It takes three years for an oyster to be ready to harvest.

What, in your opinion, does the future of aquaculture in the United States look like?

Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food sectors in the world. But, it has to be done in a sustainable manner. Otherwise, the industry will shoot itself in the foot. Whether it’s inshore or offshore, aquaculture needs to be well thought out, sustainable and accepted by all the user groups, including coastal property owners, fishermen, boaters and others.

So, we’ve got to ask: What is your favorite seafood?

I really like to eat sea urchin roe. And I love to eat and sell oysters.


To learn more about aquaculture and review NOAA’s new aquaculture plan, please visit: http://aquaculture.noaa.gov/.

Posted Feb. 9, 2011 NOAA logo.