Love and Beauty from the Ocean
When Krista Tripp was recently asked if she ever takes a day off, she laughs and replies, “Very rarely.” The 35-year-old lobsterwoman and owner of Aphrodite Oysters in Spruce Head hoped that she and her husband, Dmytro, could spend their third wedding anniversary in Acadia National Park, a place she has never experienced. But Krista is not complaining.
Krista’s attitude is that if she works really hard and pays her serious dues now, she will be able to realize her dream of growing an oyster farming business while maintaining her 700 lobster traps. She decided to get into aquaculture to diversify her business. It has proved to be a good decision, given the financial havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked on Maine’s lobster industry.
Krista said she grew up in Spruce Head and has been lobstering since she was 8 years old with her father. She started running her own boat when she was 14. Her lobster boat Shearwater once belonged to her grandfather. “It’s named after an ocean bird. I bought the boat from my grandmother after my grandfather passed away.”
So, while lobstering has been a family vocation for at least three generations, Krista’s ascent into oyster farming represents a new fishing path. She purchased Aphrodite Oysters in 2016 from her former high school chemistry teacher. “I started volunteering on the farm on my days off from lobstering, and I really liked it,” Krista said.
When she purchased her oyster farm business, the previous owner called it “Aphrodite’s Oysters.” Krista said she just took the “’s” off the end and called it “Aphrodite Oysters.” She likes the name because the Greek goddess stands for love and beauty. Aphrodite also represents her love of oysters and the ocean.
She currently has a 1-acre oyster farm and five Limited Purpose Aquaculture licenses that can yield up to 400,000 oysters. Krista wants to expand her business another 8 to 10 acres in the next two years, which would enable her to harvest up to 4 million oysters per year.
“The market for oysters in Maine is booming,” Krista notes. Growing 4 million oysters per year is what it will take to make this side business profitable. “We’ve done a lot of work on the farm, and because of that work, the ‘dead loss’ we have seen is nothing compared to what the previous owner experienced.” In other words, a much greater proportion of the oysters are healthy and reaching maturity than formerly.
More Maine restaurants are buying oysters that ever before. As a food, Krista said, oysters “are extremely healthy, full of protein, vitamins, and minerals.” There are also many different kinds of oysters based on where they are grown, making an appealing variety for customers. For instance, in the Damariscotta River, Krista said, there are about a dozen oyster farms, and the oysters from each taste different because of their location in the river.
A market-sized oyster is about 3 inches long, and it takes anywhere from two to three years to grow them. The warmer the water, the faster they grow. Cultivating oysters in colder water yields excellent flavor, Krista said. Her oysters tend to be green, purple, and white in color. Fall is considered the best time to eat oysters. They tend to store a lot of glucose for winter hibernation.
“I love eating oysters raw because you really get the best flavor of the oyster,” Krista said, but noted that people can grill, steam, and fry them, too, if they wish.
Growing a bumper crop of oysters is no easy task. “It is a lot of work. We do a lot of sorting where we put all the oysters that are the same size in one bag. That way you can make sure the smaller oysters are not deprived,” Krista said. Oyster bags are sacks that allow water to flow through them, almost like large nets. The bags are placed in the water, and oyster farmers have to pull the bags out of the water, flip them and move the oysters around to improve their growth potential.
She also has to clean the bags and make sure there is no growth in them that will prevent the oysters from receiving all of the nutrients they need to achieve the best results. Oyster farmers also have to shake the bags and flip the bags to chip off the shell to help oysters grow thicker and stronger shells. In her one-acre farm, Krista has 820 bags. She could increase that number to 8,200 bags once she expands her farm to 10 acres.
When asked which is harder, lobstering or oyster farming, Krista said there is no contest. “Lobstering is harder, physically and mentally.”
With few exceptions, Maine lobstermen and lobsterwomen go out every day during the lobster season to bait their traps and haul their catch, regardless of the weather conditions. Krista currently has 700 traps. She plans to have the maximum of 800 lobster traps in 2021.
“I love lobstering because it is what I grew up doing, and my family has always done it,” Krista said. She has never let the fact that she is a woman deter her from doing the labor-intensive work that is linked to lobstering. “I’m used to it.”
Even during the pandemic, when lobster prices and demand have plummeted, Krista still enjoys heading out every morning to see what her traps will yield. “It’s always been quite exciting and a lot of fun, especially when you catch a lot of lobsters.”
“I love getting home from work and feeling like I accomplished something,” Krista observes. She has also shared her lobstering knowledge to help others work in the industry. “I have taught a lot of people to be sternmen.”
Doing both the lobstering and the oyster farming has made weathering the pandemic a little easier for Krista, even though oyster prices and demand are also down. Still, she sees a great future in aquaculture. “It gives me something to fall back on.”
She is proud that she is operating two businesses and finding a way to make it work in 2020. She believes Mainers are resilient and resourceful and that they find a way to meet challenges, even those posed by a global pandemic. Despite the difficulties encountered by Maine’s lobster and oyster industries, Krista considers the big picture, and says in conclusion, “I’m very hopeful.”