The annual Pemaquid Oyster Festival drew a crowd to Damariscotta to enjoy oysters and support marine conservation Sunday, Sept. 25.
The 16th annual event, running from noon to dusk, was held at Schooner Landing, with proceeds benefiting the Edward A. Myers Marine Conservation Fund.
According to Chris Davis, of Pemaquid Oyster Co., the festival has raised approximately $125,000 over the years.
This year’s recipients of grant awards from the conservation fund were The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, the Damariscotta River Association, the Darling Marine Center, Great Salt Bay Community School, Lincoln Academy, OceansWide, the Pemaquid Watershed Association, and South Bristol School.
The conservation fund is named for the late aquaculture pioneer and Walpole resident Ed Myers.
Ed Myers’ son, Tom Myers, announced this year’s grant awards and, prior to the presentation, spoke of his mother, Julia Myers, who passed away Thursday, Sept. 22, a few days prior to this year’s festival, at the age of 98.
Tom Myers said his mother worked hard to support the conservation fund’s mission and was deeply committed to preserving a sustainable working waterfront while protecting local marine environments.
A number of volunteers assisted with various aspects of the festival, from shucking oysters to manning the entryway, ensuring a smooth event.
Though oysters on the half shell were by far the most popular way to enjoy the mollusks at the festival, revelers could also opt for oyster stew, fried oysters, or baked oysters Rockefeller.
In total, 15,700 oysters were shucked at this year’s festival, according to festival organizer Greg Latimer.
Live music provided a backdrop for the festival with a number of bands drawing festival goers to the dance floor throughout the afternoon.
Trips to aquaculture facilities on the Damariscotta River aboard The River Tripper were offered, in addition to a number of informational exhibits for those looking to learn more about the local working waterfront.
One of the festival’s marquee events, the Maine Champion Oyster Shucking Contest, saw the defending champion, Christopher Buxton, of Newmarket, N.H., take home the oyster belt.
In the final round of the championship, Buxton, who originally hails from Milford, edged Ralph Smith, of Mine Oyster in Boothbay Harbor.
Both contestants finished shucking their oysters in the same time, but Buxton’s point total from his presentation of the oysters ensured his title defense at this year’s oyster festival.
Buxton advances to the national oyster shucking competition in St. Mary’s, Md.
The winner of the national competition goes on to compete at the international level in Galway, Ireland.
Buxton, who prefers to shuck oysters without protective gloves, said he doesn’t have a particular trick to opening the mollusks in rapid succession, but repeating the exercise has helped him improve his speed over the years.
“It just takes a lot of practice,” Buxton said.
The Pemaquid Oyster Co. and Schooner Landing have hosted the festival since its debut in 2001.