East Beach Farm
Owner: Jim Arnoux
Farm size: 2 leased sites totaling 4 acres
Location: Ninigret Pond, Charlestown, RI
A Family Tradition
Prior to becoming an oyster farmer, Jim Arnoux began harvesting shellfish on the historic Great South Bay, the home of the original Blue Point oyster. Digging for clams had long been a tradition in his family, one passed down to him from his father and uncle. Bull rake in hand, Jim began to earn money clamming when he was 14 and continued to do so throughout his attendance at the University of Rhode Island, where he earned his degree in Coastal Policy and Management.
Catching the Oyster Bug
It was shortly after college when oyster farming caught Jim’s interest. After his day was done digging clams and quahogs, Jim watched intently as Lou Riccarelli and Russ Blank, two oyster farmers who later became co-founders of the oyster cooperative, tended their oyster nursery at the dock. Russ has since expanded his oyster farm, but unfortunately Louie passed away in a diving accident a couple of years ago while harvesting quahogs. Both Russ and Louie were always willing to share their trials and tribulations with Jim as he contemplated starting an oyster farm of his own.
“Louie was one of the funniest characters and finest guys that I've met in the fishing industry.”
– Jim Arnoux
Beginning in 2004, Jim and fellow cooperative member Nick Papa joined forces to start a one-acre site of their own in Ninigret Pond. They took a conservative approach for the first few years until their methods were refined, and in 2009, they each acquired 3-acre leases near their original lease. Today, Jim owns and operates the original one-acre lease that started it all, using the lease as an inventory system for his marketable oysters.
With a Little Help from My Friends
Rob Krause, another oyster farmer on Ninigret Pond and fellow co-op member, owns a raft utilizing a solar-powered upweller system that acts as a nursery for all three farms. 2011 was the first year where all three farmers shared duties at the nursery, which holds each of their seed investments. Rob would grow the juvenile oysters purchased from hatcheries for 6-8 weeks in his system, after which Nick and Jim grew the oysters for the remainder of the summer and fall. The arrangement among the three farmers provides an opportunity to benefit from each other’s unique skills and business infrastructure.
After recent transplant surgery, Nick, Rob, and Paul (one of Jim’s employees), stepped in to harvest oysters from Jim’s farm as he recuperated.
“That was a pretty great feeling to know that all three of them would help me out like that. I think it demonstrated the high level of camaraderie in the cooperative. That has been a big reason for the co-op’s success.” – Jim Arnoux
Committed to the Harvest
Year-round, maintaining a consistent supply is a hallmark of the cooperative’s business model. Depending on the severity of the winter, Ninigret farmers often deal with ice up to 12 inches thick. Despite the daily chore of breaking ice to create ingresses that reach their leased sites on the pond, the farmers can maintain a consistent harvesting schedule, and any hard freezes are typically behind them by March. With the exception of 2-3 weeks during late July when the oysters typically spawn, Jim harvests his oysters year-round to keep East Beach Blondes on the menu at raw bars up and down the East Coast. During periods of peak demand, Jim ships his oysters 2-3 days per week. Within an hour of being pulled from the water, the oysters are at the cooperative’s shipping dock and ready to ship out, thus ensuring that the oysters are extremely fresh when they reach the plate.
Community Means Helping Each Other
In addition to the environmental benefits provided by an oyster farm, Jim is enthusiastic about the employment opportunities that it creates for people. The cooperative’s shellfish farms are able to create jobs in a way that’s not only a sustainable use of the coastal waters, but also extend far beyond the short-lived summer season of recreational boating.
“Compared to the overall size of Ninigret Pond, the cooperative’s farms utilize a very small portion of the total acreage, yet this limited space supports three businesses and additional employment for six people.” – Jim Arnoux
In addition to providing employment opportunities, Jim, Nick, and Rob have all participated in USDA-sponsored oyster restoration projects. The restoration projects have resulted in several million spat-on-shell oysters being planted in designated growing sanctuaries since 2008. The farms also donate shellfish to support local non-profits such as the Salt Pond Coalition.