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Oyster Industry Thrived in Great South Bay in 1889

Footnotes to Long Island History

Oyster Industry Thrived Along G.S Bay in 1899

by

Thomas R. Bayles


  Oyster Industry Thrived in Great South Bay in 1889

            The oyster industry was a thriving business in the villages along the Great South Bay around the turn of the century and some idea of its size in those years is given in the article for May 28, 1899 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, from which we quote.

            “Not only has the great oyster industry grown within the past five years, but it is in the constant increase.  One of the leading planters and shippers in the famous Blue Point section, which extends from Patchogue to Oakdale, made the statement that the oyster industry is valued at over a million dollars.  Twenty large firms are engaged in planting and shipping oysters throughout this country and to foreign countries, and hundreds of smaller companies are also engaged in this business.  Then there are the individuals who lease a few acres and carry their oysters direct to the New York markets.  It is estimated that there are nearly 2,000 individuals and 500 boats engaged in this work.  These figures include only the section from Patchogue to Oakdale.

            “Jacob Ockers, who is styled the oyster king of the Great South Bay, was the largest shipper of oysters this season and shipped over 23,000 barrels to domestic and foreign markets.  The firm leases 1000 acres of ground in the bay from Brookhaven Town, for which they pay the town $1,142 in rents.  Last year, Mr. Ockers put down 60,000 bushels of seed and expects to harvest 150,000 bushels of oysters next fall.

            “The Lewis Blue Point Oyster Cultivation Co. at Sayville is the second largest shipper of Blue Point oysters this season, and they planted over 50,000 bushels of seed last year.  The firm employs 60 men, 18 boats and a steamer, with a capacity of 600 bushels a day.

            “The Westerbeeke Bros. are the next largest shippers of the season.  They shipped over 10,000 barrels between September 1 and May 1, and employ 40 men on average through the season.

            “The Nassau Oyster Co. located at Patchogue, employs about 20 men and has 500 acres leased from Brookhaven Town.  This company ships about 15,000 bushels a year.  The Town of Brookhaven leased out over 5,000 acres of bay bottom last year.

            “The season is closing now and the planters are busy putting down seed for next year.  During the past week many boats have arrived in the bay from the Connecticut shores with thousands of bushels of the seed.  Recently, 10 schooners and four large sloops passed Fire Island with seed for the Blue Point planters.  The seed is raised along the Connecticut shore and planted in the waters of the Great South Bay.  Usually, the seed matures by the next fall when the season opens, but at times, it takes two years.  The average price paid by the planters is 50 cents a bushel.  About 250 bushels of seed are planted to an acre and the crop should increase about 50 per cent over the amount planted, the profit being in the growth of the oysters.

            “The present season has been very satisfactory to all concerned, and during the height of the season hundreds of men are employed in both the shops and on the boats engaged in taking up the oysters.  Men are paid $1.50 a day and $5 is paid for two men and a boat.  The average price paid to the baymen for their oysters delivered at the large plants is 95 cents a bushels, and about three bushels make a barrel.  These oysters are shipped to the city by fast express trains at a cost of 40 cents a barrel.  The ocean freight rate is 75 cents a barrel and it requires about nine days to reach the English markets of Liverpool and London, where most of the oysters are shipped.

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