Shellfish Bed Types and Management

Shellfish Bed Types
  • State managed beds - the State franchise lots were established in 1880 when the legislature authorized shellfishermen to plant and cultivate shellfish in offshore waters, following the creation of stream powered vessels. A line was drawn from the southernmost tips of each coastal Town, establishing State and Town jurisdictional waters in Connecticut. This line exists today, with Town jurisdictional waters located north of the line and State jurisdictional waters located south of the line. The State continues to manage these areas today, although the Legislature ended the Franchise right to plant and cultivate shellfish in 1915 and created a leasing statute instead. The State annually taxes leased shellfish beds. 
  • Town managed beds - The legislature also established taxable franchise Town beds, originally a 2-acre law giving individuals the right to plant and cultivate shellfish in a particular area. These Town beds remain today and are taxed by each municipality. The Towns of New Haven, West Haven, Milford, and Westport all turned the function of managing these beds over to the State DoAG in 1915. The DoAG continues to manage them, collect the taxes, and send revenue to the Town.
  • In 1880, the Legislature provided an opportunity for both Town and State shellfish commissions to designate natural beds through the Superior Court System. Natural beds are areas where oysters naturally recruit, creating an abundant source of seed. About 15,000 acres were mapped and designated, through the courts, as Natural Beds that could not be leased or franchised, and instead are available for public use. There are also non-designated natural beds, which the legislature adopted through statutes. Any area today where oysters colonize and are removed as seed are classified as an undesignated natural bed for seed. This ensure that all shellfish harvesters in the State have equal access to oyster seed sources.
  • Recreational beds can be established by a Town shellfish Commission, in collaboration with the DoAG, with the designated use of recreational shellfishing according to permit requirements and regulations. The DoAG establishes a management and sampling plan for each recreational area to ensure that all locations meet the acceptable water quality criteria, are appropriately sampled throughout the year, and are closed when adverse environmental conditions (e.g. rainfall) impact water quality. Many recreational areas are located within designated Natural Bed areas across the State. To learn more about recreational shellfishing, visit the recreational shellfishing page.
  • There are 45,265.10 acres of State managed beds, 16,156.10 acres of Town managed beds, and 17,336.50 acres of natural beds.

Seed Oystering

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; however, the State has completed various restoration projects with collaborators using federal funding.


For more information, please visit our associated webpages:

Shellfish Area Classifications and Maps | Shellfish Grounds Leasing Opportunities