December 4, 2020

It starts with an idea… How an oyster farmer grew his business by becoming a professional captain

Part 1 of our new Building Better Businesses Series following the journey of Capt. Matt Behan as develops and evolves his career.

A vastly expanding industry in Rhode Island and beyond, oyster farming has become increasingly popular and in high demand in recent decades. For Matt Behan, owner and founder of Behan Family Farms, it has always been about seeing opportunity, and taking it. An innovative go-getter, Behan sets himself apart with his ability to evolve and move with the changing tides.

Matt Behan has been involved with oyster farming for over a decade, building his own business from the ground up. At the age of 15, Matt Behan started working at Watch Hill Oysters, where he would continue to work while obtaining his Bachelor of Science for aquaculture and fisheries management from URI. It was when his father retired that Behan decided to “go all in,” starting his own farm in 2010.

It would take a year of getting permits before they got started with 3 acres in 2011. Since then, it has expanded out to 10 acres, broadening the scope of the burgeoning oyster farm. Following that success, Behan has now entered the ecotourism industry, giving visitors the opportunity to see where their oysters are coming from through experiential boat tours.

Behan’s decision to branch into the new industry derives in equal parts from passion and sharp business thinking. Growing the business model to include ecotourism provides the opportunity to not only share Behan’s vision with others, but also showcase the efforts and work that goes into the production itself. Behan says, “It is hard not to showcase what we are doing. There is so much more that goes into it than just the oyster.” 

The farm grows their oysters from two millimeters up to four inches before they are sold. The farm is there for the entire life cycle of the oyster, something Behan knows is as fascinating as it is beautiful, “It is very interesting, everyone has the same inquisitive look on their face when they visit. You get to see every life cycle-- it’s pretty cool stuff.” 

While motivated by enthusiasm, Behan is also cognisant that ecotourism is currently a raging industry; People want to see where their food is coming from and how it is produced. Tours allow for the self-promotion of the product, as Matt aptly describes: “It is marketing you are getting paid for, not paying for.” 

This model has proved particularly imperative for Behan in the wake of COVID-19, when the oystering industry was virtually shut down,“It is a great way for us to fight all of the losses due to COVID. This is a way to be innovative. We have to be innovative.” 

The Building Better Businesses Series will follow the journey of Captains in the workforce. The Professional Captains Association is here to support mariners from training to advocacy, advice, and membership deals. Learn more about joining: