7 Generations of Shellfishing Coming to Stratford
by Rob Norrholm
For over 7 generations the same family line has been harvesting oysters and clams from Long Island Sound, bringing over 200 years of expertise and quality to each and every catch.
With 55 years working in the industry himself, in 2006 Captain Dave Hopp decided to start his own one-boat shop, naming it Bell’s Shellfish after his grandfather, Captain Wallace Bell, who passed along his immense knowledge of the aquaculture of The Sound and love for the clamming and oystering industry.
Bell’s Shellfish has since grown to 4 boats and a grandfather working alongside his grandsons daily. Here is their story from his grandson Rob Norrholm.
What is the history of Bell’s Shellfish?
“Shellfishing is in our DNA and a family business. Currently, Bell’s Shellfish is run by Captain Dave Hopp who is my grandfather, along with myself and my brother, Kyle Norrholm.” Rob Norrholm
Each of us run our own boat and have known for our whole life that this is what we would be doing. Our father also plays a part in the daily operations both on water and land, so we have three generations out there together at the moment.
We know that this is something that is rare and special. We take great pride in it. My grandfather learned how to Oyster from his grandfather, Captain Wallace Bell, and his uncle, Captain Wallace (Barney) Bell. Wallace learned the trade from his father, Willis Bell, whom learned from his father Hiram Bell. Each of these men live(d) in Norwalk (dating back to the 1800’s) and plied their shellfishing trade on Long Island Sound.
Though the technology and vessels have changed a bit (from oystering boats run by sails to steamships, to today’s diesel powered boats), the methods and stories live on and are what we apply to our work each day.
It’s very cool to look back and see each generation with “oysterman” next to their occupation in census data, sometimes in their own hand writing even. Though we have our own company now with Bell’s Shellfish, it wasn’t since the first (known) generation of family oystermen that it was that way.
Hiram Bell was a partner in Norwalk-based Bell & Raymond Oyster Company during the 1800’s, but after several events happened, the generations to follow, including today’s three active generations, all worked for other local oyster and clamming companies, captaining boats, but rather than working for ourselves, we were working for the broader family business.
Many of the clam and oyster companies in Long Island Sound share a family tree… fun fact! In 2006 my grandfather decided he was ready to go out on his own, knowing that Kyle and I were all in to make it a family venture of our own. Here we are 15 years later, still doing what we love and constantly evolving our business. We are getting ready to open a retail shop in Stratford to sell our freshly harvested clams and oysters 5 minutes from our docks in Bridgeport.
Why did you decide to follow in your grandfather’s footsteps?
As a child I spent a ton of time at the docks and on the boats with my grandfather. I got a taste of running my first boat when I was 9 years old. One Saturday, I went with my grandfather for a boat ride while he was working. He was going to move oysters from deep water to shallower water for this part of their growth process. He let me run the boat (under careful supervision of course) on the way out to get them. After we finished moving the oysters and were heading back in, he looked at me and said “Good job kid, only a million more to go!” and I guess I really have taken that to heart. I’ve been hooked ever since.
How do you “oyster” or “clam”?
Oysters and clams are both cultivated on the bottom of Long Island Sound using dredges. There are differing approaches to catching each, but the general idea is the same. We strategically work the bottom to encourage growth while careful to not do any damage. The health of Long Island Sound is our top priority, as the healthier the environment, the more fruitful the harvest. We generally leave the docks at 6 am and return with our catch of the day at 2 pm. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “do you do this year round?” And my answer is yes, we’re out there 12 months a year with very few “bad weather” breaks.
What do you do with the catch?
We sell our daily catch to our wholesalers, many of whom are local and provide to area restaurants and grocery stores in addition to regional fish markets in New York and Boston.
We also have a few restaurants that we deliver fresh caught clams and oysters to directly, and then the remainder are caught-to-order day of for our online sales orders and soon to be shop. We can’t wait to be open in Stratford and bring our clams and Stratford Point Oysters into your kitchens and cookouts!
Bell’s Shellfish proudly harvests clams and Stratford Point Oysters year round, wild caught off the shoreline in Stratford.
WHEN: Stratford Point Oysters are available year round
TASTE: Because our oysters are fresh and wild caught, they are naturally salty and sweet with a hint of brine and clean finish.