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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

2008-2009 Oyster Season Off to Slow Start

Watermen say demand is down

Oystering is off to a slow start this fall for watermen and the seafood industry in Virginia and Maryland.

While there's the longstanding issue of the declining number of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, people in the seafood business are finding another problem: There's little demand from consumers.

Even though the holiday season from Thanksgiving through Christmas is prime time for eating oysters in stuffing and stew, few people are buying.

"It's off from last year," said Joe Morotti, owner of Joe's Seafood, a carryout shop in Severna Park. He wouldn't speculate why sales were slow, but hoped last-minute Thanksgiving customers would come in today and tomorrow.

Mr. Morotti was selling pints of shucked oysters for $12.99 for bay oysters and $16.99 for Chincoteagues.

Some watermen can't find much work oystering, because they can't sell what they catch.

"The economy is so bad, they're only working two to three days a week," said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.

Waterman Joe Kubert of Kent Island said oystering already is a tough business because watermen are limited by law to working five days per week. Add to that the depressed market and the days that are lost to bad weather and "It's the worst it's been in years," he said.

Mr. Simns encourages the public to give oysters a try and not to worry too much about the depleted oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

While the oyster population is low due to past overharvesting and pollution and diseases that don't affect humans, the species is carefully watched to avoid a complete wipeout. The population is estimated to be at just 1 or 2 percent of historic levels.

Though watermen and the state regulators often disagree over how the oyster harvest is managed, they have the same goal of making sure oysters aren't overharvested, Mr. Simns said.

"If it's on the market, it's good. Don't try to manage the market yourself by not buying," because that only hurts watermen, seafood processors, retailers and restaurants, he said.

The oyster season opened Oct. 1 and runs through the end of March.

Oysterman says: I already have a couple of pints of shucked to make the stuffing for the turkey - HERE IS THE RECIPIE:

Today I think I'll go out and stimulate the economy and help the local producers by buying a couple of dozen to open tonight. There is nothing like oysters that were just harvested! Cheers.


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