To foster industry growth the State Legislature established a program within the Department of Agriculture for the purchase of cultch (shells) for planting on the States’ public seed oyster beds (Gen. Statute 26-237 a). The cultch program was established in 1987 with an initial bond authorization of $1.3 million. Subsequently, an additional $4,000,000 was bonded and harvesters taking seed from enhancement areas paid a 10% assessment on the sale value of their harvests. The money, collected by the Department of Revenue Services, was deposited in a dedicated fund to help sustain this program. The program enhanced over 3,000 acres of State beds with approximately 5.2 million bushels of shells.
The cultch was distributed and planted by volunteers from the oyster industry. Planting shells on which oyster spat attach and grow as seed improves the overall condition and productivity of oyster beds. Oyster larvae settle on cultch in late summer and thumbnail sized oysters are harvested by licensed seed oystermen in the fall and following spring. The seed is then sold to aquaculture leaseholders for growth in deeper clean water. Adult oysters are harvested for market three to four years later. The cultch program provided the continued availability of seed critical to the stability and future of the Connecticut oyster industry.
The State’s economic problems have left the program unfunded for five consecutive years.