Pitch in to Save Oyster Farm in Montauk

Mike Martinson and Mike Doall of the Montauk Shellfish Company, photographed in July, worked hard to save their crop as Hurricane Sandy approached. Russell Drumm

    Mike Martinson and Mike Doall saw the storm coming a week out and knew the potential damage Hurricane Sandy could do to their Montauk Shellfish Company, and the million or so oysters that were growing in cages in Lake Montauk.
    “We . . . started sinking stuff to the bottom,” Mr. Martinson said on Monday. By “stuff” he was referring to the contents of a portion of the 3,000 or so plastic cages that were strung near the surface on longlines on the east side of Lake Montauk just south of the Gone Fishing Marina. 
    “Then, with two days left it started to look real hairy,” Mr. Martinson said. There were a lot of cages left in the water. If they were taken out, and stayed out of the water too long, the oysters would die, so we filled the boat slips with bags of them. The day of the storm we began putting them on land. We were overwhelmed. The storm came in quicker than expected and a southeast wind hurts us the most.”
    Mr. Martinson said he had been out on the water in the middle of the mariculture farm since 3 a.m. in the dark, early-morning hours of Oct. 29. “It was now 9 a.m. I called my wife and said, ‘I hate to be a pessimist but we’re screwed.’ We were in tears. It was obvious it was a real predicament.”
    “She called up her stepdad who has a firewood business. He brought two trucks and four guys. She put it on Facebook. Twenty people showed up,” the oyster farmer said.
    He said a friend learned of the farm’s impending ruin and called three or four others. Susan Vitale saw it on Facebook and showed up in bare feet. Rick Gibbs and Richard Leland helped, and Ryan Persan, who happened to be passing by, stepped up and “worked his tail off.” Other volunteers included Gail Simons, Roxanne Espantman, Tom and Maureen Sennefelder, John Regan and crew, Brian and Bert Leland, Rick Schellinger, and Tom Kaczmarek and crew.
    “People hauled and worked until four in the afternoon in 80-mile-an-hour wind,” Mr. Martinson said.
    The “Montauk Pearls,” as the company’s oysters are known, were saved. Mr. Martinson said that as threatening as a southeast blow normally was for the farm, in this case it probably helped push the extreme high water back out of the lake.
    In the end, many of the 3,000 plastic cages filled with oysters were loaded onto trucks and taken to higher ground. Others were laid out in the parking lot of the Crabby Cowboy Restaurant where they were inundated by sustaining lake water.
    The big unknown is how many of the winter-storage cages that were filled with oysters and sunk to the relative safety of the bottom were buried by sand. On Monday their fate was yet to be determined. In the meantime:
    “We moved roughly 3,000 bags, over a million oysters. We’re sitting pretty. It was a true miracle. The community came together and saved our ass,” Mr. Martinson said on Monday before pondering the fate of his rescued oysters in the face of this week’s predicted northeaster.