In January after over 40 years with the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, I will be stepping down as its director and transitioning to a part-time position with the organization. “Unretirement is the new retirement.” We baby boomers are all about changing the rules! I’ve had a great run. I still love my job but not seven days a week. To paraphrase President Kennedy, it’s time to pass the torch, or is that the hose, to a new generation.

The shellfish group, from nearly day one, has been my baby. Over the many years, with a supportive board of directors, numerous dedicated, hardworking assistants, and an Island community which believed in our vision, we have created an organization we all can be proud of. The nurturing process was not without its stress and trauma, but that which did not kill us made us stronger. Our hatchery is a well-oiled machine reliably producing tens of millions of shellfish seed annually. Our expertise in shellfish culture is internationally recognized. We continue to incorporate cutting edge ideas and technologies in pursuit of our mission to preserve and enhance the Island’s shellfish resources and the clean water quality they require.

On the eve of my retirement, I would not be honest to say I do not approach my transition with some trepidation. All change is fraught with some degree of anxiety. Is there life after shellfish?!

I often seek solace and understanding in nature, especially in the ways of charismatic microfauna. All bivalve shellfish pass through a mobile larval stage and eventually undergo a drastic change or metamorphosis to the adult form. The transition is difficult but once accomplished, they settle down and get on with their lives often happy as clams at high tide. Oysters tend to settle next to their peers forming a lasting reef, so too my association with the shellfish group. My time at the top of the reef is ending and like an old oyster or recycled shell, my role is now in the foundation and stability of the larger structure. My challenge is to find my new position on the reef and not interfere too much with the growth and development of the more active younger members.

I am confident that Amandine, Emma and Chris possess the expertise, passion and dedication to successfully carry the shellfish group and its mission forward for years to come. Most importantly, I caution them to keep it fun and entertaining. The bonds and team spirit you build with your coworkers are key to keeping the shellfish group a special place to work and more than just a job. An oyster reef is only viable if the individual oysters develop strong attachments to each other.

While I’m on the subject of viability, let me continue the metaphor and say that an oyster reef cannot thrive without inputs from its surrounding biological community. However crucial an oyster reef is to a healthy marine environment, it does not exist on its own. You, my friends, are part of that larger biological community. Your tax-deductible contributions keep the shellfish group viable and strong. Presently, we are weathering the storm of a $50,000 cut in state funding. With your support we can continue to play our important role in the community. Thank you!

Richard C. Karney next month will become director emeritus of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group. This is his annual appeal letter that went out to donors this week.