Mike Martinsen, a veteran bayman who started the Montauk Pearl Oyster Farm a few years back, seems to always have been fascinated with the bivalves. His love of their history as a famed New York delicacy, their importance to the trade of both New York City and Long Island, and their gradual decline, led to his vision to repopulate oysters in Lake Montauk.
Martinsen says that every year the village of Montauk puts together a benefit to help a family that has been suffering. This, along with the compassionate and close-knit community, is why Martinsen moved out to Montauk with his family. Not only is Martinsen repopulating the oysters for Long Island, but he has been active on the Montauk Fire Department as well.
Martinsen speaks passionately about the history of New York City and how back in the 1920s, trade relied heavily on oysters. According to Martinsen, “New York now has no idea how much the oyster population has gone down,” and there’s a tendency to undervalue the mollusk, which is viewed purely as commercially viable and not yet universally recognized for the amount of liquid that oysters filter, keeping the local waters clean naturally. The oysters eat the algae in the water and filter out nitrogen which cleans the water.
His 16-year-old son, Avery Martinsen, is his righthand man and is captain of the Montauk Junior Fire Department. His daughter, Mikayla, also works on the boat with him during the summer. Not only do his children help him but the office manager, Gail Simons, helps with deliveries. In the best year Martinsen brings in about 1.3 million oysters, last year he brought in 650,000.
Martinsen began oyster harvesting when he was only 10 years old. He recalled selling oysters out of his red wagon. At age 11, he got his first boat. Martinsen has been a bayman for 38 years and the first 26 of those years he was a wild harvester trying to grow a business.
Now he’s taken on a different path, giving back to the shellfish. “I’m going to leave this world better than I came into it,” he said.