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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Locally Grown: Oyster stew - A Christmas Eve tradition

For as long as I can remember, my family has had oyster stew on Christmas Eve. That's a tradition that makes sense if you live near the Chesapeake Bay, where oysters are a treasured natural resource.

Not so much in land-locked South Dakota. (Sorry for you - Oysterman).

As a shy kid, I didn't poll the neighbors to see whether they were slurping down bivalves while they waited for Santa. But I never once heard anyone else mention oyster stew.

Since most of the area was Scandinavian, I looked to my German roots.

When I asked my dad about it, he was no help at all.

"As far back as I can remember, we ate oyster stew on Christmas Eve," he said.

Tell me something I don't know. "Was it a German tradition?"

I could feel him pondering over the phone. "I don't think so. I don't think it came from the Old Country. I think it might have something to do with Wisconsin. It came from the branch of the family that stopped in Wisconsin first."

Hoping for more details than that, I contacted the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Washington to see if they could shed any light on this tradition. Anja Badura, who handles press, information and public affairs, sent along some interesting links and articles for reference.

Roger M. Grace, who wrote "Reminiscing" for the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, pondered the origins of oyster stew on Christmas Eve in a June 17, 2004, column. Mr. Grace referenced a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from 2002, in which Jerry Apps, an author of Wisconsin history and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus, was quoted: "By 1900, 50 different ethnic groups were here and each brought along its own costumes, recipes, approaches to the celebration. German celebrations always included, on Christmas Eve, oyster stew."

I found the original article in George Mason University's History News Network. Unfortunately, the piece by Jackie Loohauis was on Christmas history, so it did not expound on the topic of oyster stew. And the library doesn't carry any books by Jerry Apps, so I have a confirmation, but not an explation. In the "Reminiscing" column, though, Mr. Grace did go on to say "that tradition did not emanate from Germany, the waters there being too cold for oysters to dwell in them."

Anja also sent along a thread from the Germanna Colonies online archives, in which descendants of German immigrants discuss the tradition of oyster stew on Christmas Eve. After following the conversation, most participants concluded it was not a German tradition, but a ritual picked up along the coast regions of America.

I turned to "The Big Oyster" by Mark Kurlansky to see if I could find any German oyster connection. The only reference in the index - I confess, I haven't read the whole book yet. I've been making Christmas cookies! - was this, from around 1883: "Oysters were being shipped from New York not only to Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow, but also to Le Havre, Bremen and Hamburg." Apparently someone in Germany was eating oysters.

In Mr. Kurlansky's book, the earlier recipes were for stewed oysters, where you'd "set them over the fire in their own liquor with a glass of wine, a lump of butter, some salt, pepper and mace."

He later quotes from "Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery," 1851 edition, by Eliza Leslie, which has instructions for both oyster soup and oyster stew. The oyster stew starts by stewing in the liquor with pepper, mace, grated nutmeg and butter. When done, buttered thin slices of toast are put in the bottom of a deep dish, and the oysters and the liquor are poured over. Miss Leslie instructs "The liquor of oysters should never be thickened by stirring in flour. It spoils the taste, and gives them a sodden and disagreeable appearance.... A little cream is a fine improvement to stewed oysters."

Mr. Grace's article, as well as others written by Karen Herzog of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1999 and Cathy Benson of Roanoke Times & World News in 2003, concludes that the tradition of oyster stew on Christmas Eve came from the Irish. As Catholics, they were not allowed to eat meat the day before a religious feast. In their native country, they had prepared a stew with a chewy fish called ling, which wasn't available in the United States. Oysters were substituted because of a similar taste.

Maybe my German Catholic descendants in Wisconsin had some Irish Catholic neighbors....

Growing up, the Roos family always made traditional Maryland oyster stew (sans seafood seasoning); we just didn't know it. Milk, butter, oysters and salt and pepper were all we used. This recipe is from the Maryland Department of Agriculture.


1 pint shucked Maryland oysters, with liquor

1 quart milk

1/4 cup butter or margarine

Salt and pepper to taste

Seafood seasoning, if desired

In 4-quart pan, cook oysters, with liquor, over low heat until edges of oysters just begin to curl. Add milk, margarine or butter, salt and pepper. Heat slowly until hot; do not boil. For an extra "zip" sprinkle seafood seasoning on each serving. Makes about 6 cups stew.

I have to admit that I've gone beyond traditional with my oyster stew since I've moved to Maryland and oysters are more readily available. I've added a few things to "enhance" the milk, while not detracting from the flavor of the oysters. This is something that I cook from feel, depending on my mood and the number of servings I am preparing. But a typical Christmas Eve oyster stew at my house now starts by sauteeing some pancetta (or bacon) in pan large enough to accommodate the amount of milk you plan on adding. When it's done, remove the pancetta and add diced leek to the skillet, adding butter according to taste. When the leek is tender but not crisp, pour in the oysters with liquor, and cook over low until edges just begin to curl. Add milk and a dash or two of RedHot, salt and pepper, according to taste. Heat slowly.

If you need more specific instructions, here's a very similar recipe from a friend, Erin Colomb Henson, who is the deputy director of public affairs for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

It has been described as "killer." (Oysterman agrees).


SERVES 2 for a large bowl each with a little leftover or SERVES 4 for a small appetizer

PREP TIME: 20 minutes

COOK TIME: 15 minutes

1 pint oysters

1 cup milk (we use Lactaid, but any kind is fine.)

1 cup heavy cream

3 strips bacon

1/4 vidalia onion (or other onion)

1/2 bunch green onions/scallions


another 1/2 bunch of green onions

1 garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teasoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 dashes hot sauce

Butter (optional)


Chop onion and green onions (all green and white parts). Set 1/2 bunch of green onions aside for garnish.

Finely chop garlic clove (leave separate from onion and green onions).

Put all spices in small bowl except for hot sauce.

Chop uncooked bacon in small pieces and set aside.

Put cream and milk in bowl or measuring cup.

Drain oyster liquor from pint of oysters carefully not to lose any oysters.


Cook chopped bacon until fat renders, but not anywhere near crisp. DO NOT DRAIN. Leave fat in pan that is your cooking base and flavor. Add garlic first, until it begins to turn brown. Add onion and green onions (except for garnish). You may want to add some butter at this time depending on how moist the onions are. Cook until translucent.

Add spices and a few dashes of hot sauce. Add cream/milk mixture and oyster liquor. Bring to a near boil and add oysters. Immediately bring to a low simmer to four or five minutes until the oysters curl.

Serve with scallions on top, a little black pepper and a small bit of butter is optional.

Serve with hot French bread.

Erin's note at the end: "ENJOY … And say a small prayer to the oyster gods, and "Save the Bay"!

If you've got a favorite food tradition you'd like to share, or if you're looking for a recipe, please e-mail Locally Grown at


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Monday, December 22, 2008

Oysters - Gem of the ocean

A Dozen Oysters and a Pint of Guinness, Please

From The Economist print edition

Bridgeman Art Library

I would love to own this painting.

JUST as household trash tells you a lot about a family, so mankind’s rubbish heaps reveal much about the species. One of the best lies in the waters around Manhattan. There, archaeologists have found mounds of oyster shells, known as middens, dating back to 6950BC.

People have fed on oysters so long that the man whom Jonathan Swift called brave for first eating one is quite out of range of history’s eye. Sergius Orata, a Roman engineer who lived in the first century BC, cultivated oysters in southern Italian lakes by bringing them to spawn on rock piles that he surrounded with twigs. Larval oysters settled on the twigs, which the cultivator could monitor easily; when the oysters grew to marketable size, they were plucked off and sold.

In Manhattan the oyster trade really took off with the arrival of Europeans: as Mark Kurlansky writes in the opening to “The Big Oyster”, his marvellous examination of the dark and salty crossroads where bivalency and humanity meet, “To anyone who is familiar with New Yorkers, it should not be surprising to learn that they were once famous for eating their food live.” Yet had the Europeans examined those shell mounds more closely, they would have found something ominous: the shells grow larger toward the bottom. Left alone, oysters never stop growing. The largest ones were taken first. As more people arrived, the average oyster’s lifespan fell: even in pre-European America, overfishing threatened.

Those ancient New Yorkers and the Dutch and English who followed plundered the area’s oyster supply without a second thought. The waters around New York once teemed with oysters, as did those around London. Both cities were built on estuaries, allowing the constant yet changing mixture of fresh and salty water that oysters love. Both cities progressed rapidly from manufacturing to industrial to financial capitals, and in the process, voraciously abetted by the appetites of their citizenry, both killed their oysters (Paris, the third great oyster metropolis, protected its beds far more successfully, and to this day shuckers presiding over crates of oysters packed in ice remain a common sight on the city’s corners in winter). In so doing, New York and London may have destroyed something far more than a delicious source of protein: oysters are not only among the strangest and tastiest creatures in the sea, but as far as the health of marine ecosystems go, they may also be the most important.

Edible oysters fall into one of five main species: Ostrea edulis, the European oyster, is the most regular, rounded and attractive in appearance; they are most often sold as Galway or Mersey flats in Britain and Ireland and belons in France (like wine, oysters take on characteristics of the terroir, so to speak, in which they are raised; the wildly different tastes result not from biology but from the variant diets, temperatures and salinity offered by the water in which the individual oysters spend their lives). Ostrea lurida, sold most often as the Olympia, is the only species native to America’s west coast; it is small, sweet and tastes of grass and earth rather than the sea.

Crassostrea sikaema, known as Kumamotos, are small and quite deep-shelled; they were brought to America’ s west coast from Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture, and have a crisp texture and a taste that is reminiscent of melons or cucumbers. Crassostrea gigas are native to the Pacific but grown around the world—notably in France as the green-tinged Marennes-Oléron and the fine de claire.

Gigas are closely related to Crassostrea angulata, formerly known as the Portuguese oyster. The story goes that C. angulata were introduced to northern Europe, particularly France and Britain, when a ship carrying a cargo of Portuguese oysters, took shelter from a storm in southwestern France. Believing his oysters ruined, the captain jettisoned them. They flourished. It was either these or O. edulis that M.F.K. Fisher, an American food writer, had in mind when she recounted an old recipe for a single roasted oyster: “You start with an oyster. You put it inside a large olive. Then you put the olive inside an ortolan (a wee bird called ‘the garden bunting’, in case you are among the underprivileged), and the ortolan inside a lark, and so on and so on. In the end you have a roasted oyster. Or perhaps a social revolution.”

The teardrop-shaped Crassostrea virginica thrive on America’s east coast, and can appear in guises as diverse as the small, intensely briny Malpeque, from Prince Edward Island, to the large and sweetly bland Apalachicola, from Florida. Historically, however, most virginicas—a significant portion, if not an outright majority, of oysters eaten in America, from the time of the Civil War until the mid 1980s—came from the Chesapeake Bay, situated mostly in Maryland but with a watershed stretching 64,000 square miles across six states and the District of Columbia.

Although the Chesapeake region might be best known for its blue crabs, in fact oyster harvesting and processing formed the most commercially viable operation in the region as far back as the Civil War. And the waters teemed with oysters long before that: when John Smith first sailed into the Chesapeake in 1608, he wrote that they “lay as thick as stones”—so profuse, in fact, that they made navigation difficult.

The stone-thickness of the oyster beds that Smith saw attest not just to the Chesapeake’s ideal salinity—situated as it is just in from the Atlantic, and fed by dozens of rivers from across the watershed—but also to the beds’ age: left undisturbed, oyster beds would indeed thicken impressively, because oysters like setting their shell nowhere as much as on the back of another oyster shell, because they grow larger the longer they live, and because proximity aids successful spawning. Spawning occurs in the warmer part of the year—hence the historic injunction against eating oysters in months that lack an R. This has nothing to do with illness (though obviously oysters, like other raw meat, spoil faster in warm weather), but because, as Ms Fisher reminds us, “oysters, like all men, are somewhat weaker after they have done their best at reproducing”—the meat tends to be thin and flat-tasting. They spawn by releasing gametes into the water: a female Atlantic oyster tends to release clouds of eggs in a series of wet puffs, while males send sperm forth in a stream. But male oysters can spawn in the style of females, and vice versa; and hermaphroditism, in which eggs and sperm shoot out of the same oyster at the same time, also occurs, albeit rarely.

Fertilisation occurs when opposite gametes meet in the water: hence the advantage offered by proximity. Generally, the male releases his gametes first, which acts as a signal to any females nearby. The spawning process takes about 45 minutes, during which a female will emit anywhere from 10,000 to around 60m eggs, only a small fraction of which will be lucky enough to meet their mates. Once the pair of gametes connect, they become a larva that drifts and swims in the tidal current, propelling itself by means of a little organ ringed with cilia called a velium. This is an oyster’s only taste of free movement. When the larva grows to around 300 microns (roughly one-third of a millimetre), it extends its foot and seeks a suitable surface on which to set. Having found one, it grows into a spat, which when seen beneath a microscope already resembles a tiny oyster, with the shape of a shell already visible. It prefers settling on hard, chalky surfaces. Farms often use tiles as the foundations of their beds, but when given a choice spat seem to prefer oyster shells.

And there’s the rub: most of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster operations have been public fisheries rather than aquaculture—anyone with a license could take oysters from state-owned bars, and though size and number limits were set, often they were more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Once a tipping point was reached, oysters were too far apart for enough of their gametes to meet, so the population could not sustain itself. And those few larvae that were lucky enough to live long enough to extend a probing foot too often found only silt. The oyster population in the Chesapeake today stands at just 1% of its pre-1980 levels.

It wasn’t just overfishing that depleted the oyster population. Between 1950 and 2000 the human population of the Chesapeake Bay watershed region has more than doubled, from 8m to over 16.7m. The Eastern Shore, long a relatively isolated patch of America’s east coast best known for the odd quasi-Elizabethan English spoken by its inhabitants, became an increasingly popular weekend and second-home destination. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have weekend homes in the harbour town of St Michaels. Mr Rumsfeld’s is called Mount Misery: Frederick Douglass, a renowned American abolitionist and statesman, was enslaved there in the early 19th century.

Scraping the sea bed in Chesapeake Bay

The charm is obvious enough: rather like the Norfolk Broads, it contains few breathtaking vistas but, taken as a whole, its quiet, undulating, slithery beauty and ramshackle little towns leave few unmoved, and if your correspondent had to choose a place to see his last sunrise, this might be it. Of course, every golf course, condo development and chain restaurant chips away at the very thing that made people want to move there in the first place. And they inevitably bring environmental problems: sewage, agricultural run-off and increased burning of fossil fuels, all of which produce large quantities of pollutants, which find their way into the bay.

As far as the health of marine ecosystems go, perhaps no single pollutant does more harm than nitrogen. It occurs naturally in human and animal waste. Fossil-fuel combustion produces nitrogen oxides, which rise into the atmosphere and come down in rainfall as nitric acid. And fertilisers often contain large quantities of nitrogen, which seeps into the groundwater and is washed into the bay. In the water, nitrogen serves as a major nutrient for microscopic organisms called phytoplankton. Individually, they are invisible to the naked eye, but when present in large quantities they cause massive blooms, clouding the water reddish, green, yellow or brown and preventing sunlight from filtering through the water. Also, as these phytoplankton die, they, like all organic matter, are eaten by bacteria, which, also like all organic matter, breathe, using up valuable oxygen in the water. Nitrogen thus harms aquatic life in two ways: by allowing phytoplankton to live, it keeps sunlight from reaching underwater plants and grasses, which removes an important source of food and habitat for numerous marine species. And the bacteria that feed on dying phytoplankton use oxygen, leaving less for fish and crabs.

Fortunately, few species filter nitrogen from the water as effectively as oysters—as Bill Goldsboro, a senior scientist with an environmental advocacy group called the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, explains, “The oyster is pretty particular about what it eats, but it’s not particular about what it filters.” A single oyster can filter about 50 gallons of water per day. A few decades ago, the Chesapeake had enough oysters to filter the entire bay every week: that same task would take its existing population a full year. As an oyster eats plankton, it draws in everything else around it, including nitrogen; what it does not eat it expels into the water as solid pellets of waste, which eventually decompose and bubble up into the atmosphere as nitrogen.

In oyster-farming, both economics and the environment winThe efficacy with which an oyster expels everything that displeases it puts paid to a long-standing myth: that pearls are formed when a grain of sand gets into an oyster (or other bivalve), and it protects itself by forming shell material around the intruder. Oysters live in sandy beds; they constantly ingest and expel the stuff. A pearl actually begins from a parasite adhering to an oyster’s mantle, which is a thin organ that surrounds the inside of its shell. The mantle secretes nacre, or mother-of-pearl, by synthesising calcium carbonate from materials in the water. If a parasite tears off a bit of the mantle and carries it to another part of the oyster’s body, that piece of mantle will still secrete nacre, forming a pearl sac around the parasite, which, over years, turns into what people consider a jewel.

This happens very rarely, and so, on a blustery Saturday morning on the Eastern Shore, when the wheezing remnants of Hurricane Gustav turned sky and water alike pearl grey and your correspondent held 6m oysters in the palm of his hand, he was, alas, fairly certain that none of them would facilitate his early retirement. The oysters were being grown in a hatchery run by the University of Maryland just off the Choptank River, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Like most rivers in Maryland, the Choptank flows into the Chesapeake. Its mixture of salty water from the bay and ocean and fresh water from streams in the mountainous west of the state make it a perfect habitat for oysters, and thus an ideal testing ground for a theory: it is not so much that oysters live in clean water, as that water with an abundance of oysters in it will be clean. In other words, dirty water doesn’t drive away the bivalves; rather a lack of bivalves invites the filth.

Predators going after the oysters

Don Meritt, a bluff, burly, deeply-tanned PhD waterman who runs the hatchery (and whom everyone—university president and beaker-scrubber alike—calls Mutt) explains that this is a gross oversimplification, but it contains a grain of truth. “Oysters aren’t the magic bullet, but they’re an important bullet,” he says. Dr Meritt has been studying oysters for the university since 1972. His kingdom is a warren of green-roofed institutional buildings hulking alongside a winding two-lane road, near enough to the Choptank to use its water, which flows in through underground pipes. Inside, oysters spawn in black plastic tubs; algae in every shade of drab seethe and multiply in glass jugs; and cheery young students hunch over notebooks. The future of the bay—and more than just the bay, if the experiments work—may depend on what happens here, for oysters are a keystone species: if they thrive, others will too.

Oysters filter nitrogen, and their beds offer the same multispecies home as hard coral in the tropics. Oysters have relatively few natural predators: mainly starfish, which attach themselves to the shell with multitudinous teeth and patiently chew through, and the oyster drill, a species of carnivorous snail that attaches itself to a mollusc shell with a multi-toothed organ and inserts its proboscis, which releases enzymes that digest the creature in its home, making it easy to hoover up. Watermen once tried to defeat starfish by cutting each one they dragged up in half; unfortunately, since they regenerate, this doubled the starfish population. Even a few predators, however, attract predators of their own. And as the oysters remove both plankton and nitrogen from the water, it grows clearer, allowing eelgrass and other species of marine plants to return, which provide comfortable shelter for crabs, scallops and other aquatic life.

In the hatchery, oysters grow from larvae to spat; a group called the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) then carries the spat out to the Chesapeake or one of its tributaries and places them in an oyster bed. In 2008 the ORP planted over 450m hatchery-raised oysters. Not all will live, of course, but many do: over 200m through the ORP’s efforts alone, since 2007, totalling around 1,100 acres of new oyster reefs (historically Maryland held about 200,000 acres of oyster reefs; today it has about 36,000). Half of the oysters have been seeded in sanctuaries and cannot be harvested; the other half are in managed-reserve beds, which watermen tend and can harvest from once they reach marketable size. Only a small portion of available oysters will be harvested, whether publicly or privately; most will be left in situ for the environmental benefits they provide.

And Maryland will likely turn away from public fisheries and toward private ownership of beds—after all, people tend to take better care of what they own. Fortunately, farmed oysters, unlike other seafood, suffer no decline in taste. They grow, breed, eat and filter just as they do wild. Indeed, oyster farming is one of the few situations in which both economics and the environment win: any body of water that can support a vibrant oyster industry will almost certainly be cleaner and more vital than one that cannot. Farmed salmon may turn flabby, bland and, without the addition of dye to its diet, dully grey, but eating an oyster will always be, as Léon-Paul Fargue, a Symbolist poet, said, “like kissing the sea on the lips”.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shell Recycling Provides a New Home for Oysters

By: Andrea Moran

These oyster bags contain oyster shells loaded with spat and ready for planting on a restoration reef. CBF's spat on shell restoration method requires tons of recycled oyster shells each year. Photo by John Bildahl

CBF volunteer Walter Zadan delivers another load of oyster shells to the recycling curing site in Williamsburg, Va. Photo by Andrea Moran/CBF Staff

A re-energized Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) shell recycling program is not only keeping thousands of oyster shells out of Hampton Roads landfills, it's also providing future habitat for new oysters. "Save Oyster Shells," commonly referred to as "SOS," is the ultimate "win-win" recycling effort, says CBF Oyster Specialist Jackie Harmon who is coordinating the effort.

Although it's only been under way for about a month on the Virginia Peninsula, the program is gaining momentum as restaurants, volunteers, and community oyster roast organizers get on board. So far, Williamsburg's Berret's Seafood and LaYaca restaurants and Yorktown's waterfront Riverwalk Café are saving oyster shell for later use in CBF's spat on shell restoration projects.

How it works

SOS is simple. CBF provides containers to restaurants, which collect used oyster and clam shells from finished meals. The containers are picked up by CBF volunteers such as Walter Zadan of Williamsburg. Zadan picks up the shell from LaYaca and Berret's and takes them to a curing site provided by Colonial Williamsburg. Zadan says he enjoys doing this and feels good about helping the oyster restoration efforts. And, although it's an extra step for restaurant staff, Harmon says they know it's helping restore the oysters that people love to eat, so it's well worth the effort.

Althea Moore and other students from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) pick up shells from the Riverwalk Café and take them to another CBF curing site at VIMS' Gloucester Point Hatchery. Curing shells allows bacteria and organic matter to decompose before the shells are washed and reintroduced to the water. Each and every saved shell can provide a home for baby oysters, which prefer shells to settle upon.

Loss of shell reefs has made it difficult for oysters to find a foothold and grow, which is why shell recycling for restoration is so important.

After curing and washing, the shells are submerged in wire cages in big tanks at VIMS. Next, baby oyster larvae are released into the tanks and attach themselves to the shells. Several baby oysters will attach to each shell and grow into a cluster, enabling the oysters, now called spat, to be better protected from predators and disease. Later, CBF places the shell clusters on sanctuary oyster reefs throughout Hampton Roads waterways, giving oyster restoration efforts a big boost. In 2008, approximately 10 million oysters were added to local Virginia rivers by using the spat-on-shell method.

From oyster roast to the Bay

Other states have enjoyed great success with shell recycling programs. CBF was one of the local pioneers of shell recycling when the Hampton Roads pilot project began in 2005. SOS is an expansion of that project. Other groups such as Norfolk Environmental Commission and Lynnhaven River NOW also recycle shells. Still, the vast majority of oyster shells end up in landfills.

"We want this resource coming back to us so it can help save the Bay through oyster restoration," Harmon said. "I'm excited about this program because it incorporates green practices in restaurants and provides more shells for restoration. This is good for the Bay and the oyster consumer, so everyone is a winner."

Harmon plans to double the number of participating restaurants in 2009, and collect thousands more shell from community oyster roasts. In order to reach CBF's restoration goals for the next couple of years, she says CBF needs much more shell and many more volunteers to collect them.

If you know of upcoming oyster roasts in 2009, or if you want to become a Save Oyster Shells volunteer, please contact Jackie at or call 757/622-1964.

Find out more about other CBF Virginia oyster restoration efforts and how you can participate.


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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.


Friday, November 14, 2008

State Seeks Ways to Back Aquaculture Industry

Proposal would help businesses, individuals raise oysters in bay

By Timothy B. Wheeler

Seeking to boost Maryland's fledgling aquaculture industry, the O'Malley administration plans to introduce legislation to make it easier for people and businesses to raise oysters or other shellfish in the Chesapeake Bay.

The administration has drafted a bill that would overhaul the state's law that now limits leasing of the water and the bay bottom to private entities that want to raise oysters or clams. The measure was presented last night at the state's Aquaculture Coordinating Council meeting in Annapolis. (AWESOME!)

Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin said the state needs to cut away the red tape and legal limitations on leasing in the Chesapeake if the state's once-prolific oyster industry is going to recover from the diseases that have devastated the Chesapeake's oyster population over the past two decades.

"If you look worldwide, the only places where oysters seem to be thriving is in aquaculture settings," Griffin said yesterday. "There's very few public fisheries left."

The Principle of Oyster Aquaculture - CLICK HERE:

The initiative comes as Maryland, Virginia and the federal government weigh how to go about restoring the bay's disease-depleted oyster stocks as well as its industry, which once harvested millions of bushels of bivalves annually. Harvests in recent years have been a fraction of historical levels, though, as a pair of parasitic diseases have killed off the oysters before they can grow to marketable size. Scientists have said that the bay's once-abundant oysters helped filter pollution from the estuary.

A small but growing cadre of people, including some watermen, are trying their hand at raising oysters. Some say they are finding ways to beat the diseases but remain hampered by legal and bureaucratic hurdles - with the state's leasing restrictions among the most nettlesome.

"We have 100-plus years of cobbled-together, piecemeal" leasing law, said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority leader from Southern Maryland and a member of the aquaculture council. He said the law "doesn't make sense in today's world."

There are currently 7,276 acres leased in Maryland waters, with about 300 individuals holding 700 20-year leases. However, relatively little of that is being used to raise oysters, state officials say.

State law prohibits leasing where oysters grow naturally. But those restrictions are based on century-old surveys, when oysters were much more abundant, so much of the bay is off-limits. Leasing also is completely banned in a handful of counties.

"We've got to clear away some of that underbrush and help to build our industry here," Griffin said.

The administration bill proposes to reserve for wild harvest only those waters where oysters recently were caught and to remove limitations on the size and location of leases. It also would remove the ban on corporations holding leases.

The measure would also establish a pair of "aquaculture enterprise zones" in the Patuxent and Rhode rivers. In those 50-acre tracts, leasing would be streamlined and essentially "pre-permitted" to make it easier to start raising oysters - either on the bottom or in floats on the water. Though given rights to use the bay for 20 years, leaseholders would be required to use their leases or risk losing them.

The bay's watermen traditionally have opposed any significant expansion of private leasing of the bay, fearing it would deprive them of the ability to pluck wild oysters from the most productive reefs. But with most wild oysters gone, at least some watermen are beginning to eye private aquaculture as a means of continuing to make a living from the bay.

"We don't have nowhere else to turn," said Larry W. Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. With the decline of the public fishery, and the state's ability to support it, he said that "if we don't do something ourselves, it ain't going to happen."

Simns said watermen remain wary. They want an opportunity or even guarantee they'll be able to get good leases, he said. They also want to be shown that they can make money raising oysters rather than roaming the bay to harvest what nature produces. He argued that the oyster diseases remain the biggest hurdle to large-scale aquaculture.

Waterfront property owners also may resist an expansion of aquaculture. Some have objected at times to private oyster floats or clam beds along the shore, where they complain they are unsightly and impede boating.

State officials say the legislation would bar leases within 50 feet of the shoreline or a pier, or in narrow creeks, coves or inlets - a provision meant to address landowner complaints.

Oysterman's take on this:

"I still think about how cool it would be to have a couple of oyster floats in my backyard. Any time the desire strikes, I could walk down to the floats and collect a dozen or two. Then, walk back to the house and put them on the grill.

That's the problem with living on fresh water. Oh well".


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Three Methods Vie to Restore Oysters to Chesapeake Bay

By Scott Harper
Link to original article:

Virginians are weighing in with their choices for a preferred grand strategy for restoring oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, and so far, the winner seems to be an old favorite - sticking with the native species.

A side-by-side comparison of an Asian oyster, left, and a native oyster. The Asian species grow faster and are more resistant to disease. (Hyunsoo Leo Kim | The Virginian-Pilot)

At public meetings last week in Newport News and Colonial Beach, most speakers said they think an Asian oyster is too biologically risky to introduce directly into the Bay.

This majority includes scientists, environmentalists and watermen. They instead want government to step up its efforts at bringing back the native Eastern oyster from near extinction, despite minimal success over the past 15 years at doing so.

The Asian animal, also known as ariakensis or the Suminoe oyster, is not a silver bullet, said Jay O'Dell, a scientist with The Nature Conservancy, at a three-hour public hearing Friday night in Newport News.

Other Atlantic coastal states, he said, are opposed to the foreign species as well, fearing it could spread into their waters and carry new problems if Virginia and Maryland decide to give the China Sea import an adopted home in the Bay.

"It's just way too early to give up on the Eastern oyster," O'Dell said.

He said federal, state and local governments have spent "only about $58 million" on native recovery efforts since the mid-1990s. "That's decimal dust in the federal budget," O'Dell said.

A meaningful program, he and others said, would cost $520 million over 10 years.

The hearings last week stem from the release of a major environmental study on restoration alternatives for Chesapeake oysters.

Native stocks have sunk to historic lows because of disease, pollution, overfishing and lost habitat. This has left the Bay without a key natural filter of pollutants and has decimated a once-powerful oyster industry.

Led by the Army Corps of Engineers and taking five years and nearly $15 million to complete, the study reached no conclusions about a top strategy, but it suggested three combination plans.

All three call for increased funding and attention to the native species, one supports careful cultivation of sterile Asians in controlled settings, and one includes a direct introduction of reproducing Asian oysters.

In advance of choosing a path, the corps scheduled six public meetings, three in Virginia and three in Maryland.

The corps expects to announce a final plan by June.

The third and final public hearing in Virginia is tonight on the Eastern Shore, where interest in farming native oysters is gaining momentum.

The biggest champions of an Asian introduction are seafood merchants and other business interests that have watched shucking houses close, jobs disappear and profits fall for several decades.

More recently, they have trumpeted successes with the Asian oyster in controlled field tests. The animals grow to market size faster than natives, taste about the same and, most important, do not die of local diseases.

"Until we get an organism that beats the disease, we're not going to have any success, no matter how much money we throw at it," said Robert Johnson, a Suffolk seafood executive, at Friday night's hearing.

Johnson said private industry would pay for most of the Asian work, while native restoration relies mostly on taxpayer money.

A.J. Erskine, president of the Virginia Seafood Council, said the long debate Friday night - and for the past decade - misses a key point.

"No one is saying we should stop one thing and do another," he said. "We're saying do both - continue working with natives as well as with ariakensis. Why can't we look at both?"


Friday, October 31, 2008

Brady's Oysters

I found this site while surfing the internet. If I am ever in Aberdeen WA, I am going to stop by. Cute bumper sticker too.

Brady's Oyster Website:


Monday, October 27, 2008

Chesapeake Bay Oyster History Lesson

Here is some Oyster history:

Beyond mere food, oysters are history. Oysters made Chesapeake Bay and the tidewater culture that embraces it. Chesapeake itself means “Great Shellfish Bay”. Archeologists can spot a pre- European contact Indian village site by the overgrown piles of discarded shells. Visit old tobacco plantations from Mount Vernon to Cape Charles; each has tucked away, amid the poison ivy and kudzu, a mound of old oyster shells quietly dissolving back into the soil. Indentured servants and slaves were fed oysters; cheap protein and free for the harvesting in the shallows. One of the first labor strikes in American history rose from indentured servants complaining about having to eat oysters day in and day out.

When John Smith explored the Bay in the 1500’s, he found oysters so extensive that they formed reefs, breaking the surface at low tide and a hazzard to navigation. The European settlers adapted the Indian appetites and watercraft. Soon, schooners called bugeyes, sporting two raked masts and hulls built from nine old-growth pitch pine logs, were hauling dredges across the reefs. After centuries of onslaught, the reefs soon dwindled to bars; smaller, shorter, and harder to get at, but still chock full of oysters. Bugeyes gave way to skipjacks—single masted plank-built sloops that could handle the new conditions. These graceful craft began the evolution of clipper ships, the acme of sailing ship development.

Oysters are vital to Chesapeake Bay, in large part responsible for its teeming biodiversity and are the Bay’s filtering system. Oysters are what ecologists call a “keystone species”. Keystone species are defined, like the Cheshire Cat, by what’s left when they are gone. Pull a keystone species out of the environmental pyramid, and you get a resulting cascade of unforeseen changes and extinctions of species that, at first glance, have nothing to do with oysters drop in abundance and associated ecosystem function. Ecologists estimate that, at the turn of the 20th century, a volume water equivalent to that of the entire Chesapeake Bay was filtered through an oyster every three days. A single oyster runs 50 gallons of water a day through its gills, feeding on and removing algae and bacteria.

Restored Oyster Reef

Oysters’ prodigious filtering capacity was the major influence on submerged vegetation. Oysters filter feed on one celled algae, keeping the water clear enough for sunlight to penetrate to the bottom, allowing aquatic grasses to thrive. The grasses formed nurseries for crabs and fish of all sorts.

In the 19th Century, sail switched to steam and gasoline engines and the plunder became serious. Maryland made feeble attempts at conservation, such as limiting dredging to sail only, but to little avail. It is an adage among fisheries management people that governments don’t enact management plans until the resource has already dwindled to critical levels. After being pounded for 400 years, the oysters have seemingly given up. Down to one percent of their former populations, they are no longer a major functional part of Chesapeake ecology.

Eastport once had nearly 20 oyster shucking houses and watermen tied up at nearby Annapolis City Dock to off load their bushels of bivalves. Skipjacks and smaller working craft were common in the harbor.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shells Reveal Change in Oysters

400-year-old remnants show that creatures grew faster than they do today


A study of 400-year-old oyster shells discovered in a Jamestown well used by colonists shows that eastern oysters grew significantly faster then than oysters today, a clue that may help shed light on the plight of the modern oyster.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science study provides the first documented evidence that oysters function differently than they did in the early 1600s.

They were larger than modern oysters the same age, which probably would have made them "exponentially more capable of reproducing, filtering water and making shell," said Juliana Harding, senior marine scientist at VIMS.

Roger Mann, professor of marine science at VIMS, said the slower growth rate of modern oysters may be the result of changes in water quality or sedimentation -- which can bury oyster habitat -- diseases, or a combination of these factors.

Researchers studied shells unearthed in a 1609-1616 well discovered inside the James Fort site at Historic Jamestowne in 2006. Archaeologists contacted VIMS and other organizations to find out what shells and other organic artifacts preserved in the watery environment could reveal about the Chesapeake before the impact of European colonization.

As they produce their shells, oysters, clams and other mollusks record biological information about their age and growth just like trees store information in growth rings. They also incorporate minerals from the water and lay down a record about their environment that can potentially provide information about water temperature and salinity levels.

"They're like a million environmental barometers spread all over the place that have recorded everything that's happened at that spot throughout their entire life history," Mann said.

To select shells suitable for comparison, Harding sorted through about 3,000 oyster shells deposited in the well after colonists began using it as a trash pit.

To determine changes in growth rate, researchers measured the shell lengths and compared the historic oysters with modern oysters of the same age from similar sites in the James River that had the same salinity level as Jamestown in the early 1600s.

Studies of mineral deposits in the 400-year-old shells of tiny crustaceans and marine protozoans from the Chesapeake Bay were used to determine that salinity levels around Jamestown were 10-15 parts per thousand higher than they are now.

In 1617, oyster reefs in the James River near Jamestown were large enough to be navigational hazards, indicated as small islands on a 17th century map drawn by Johannes Vingboons, a Dutch cartographer. Harding said they would have been visible at low tide.

Although oysters can live 10 to 20 years, Harding said most modern oysters die before they are two or three years old, mainly because of diseases, harvesting and habitat degradation.

"Restoring them is not simply a matter of putting more oysters in, leaving them alone and expecting the same results we had 400 years ago," she said. "You need to plan and accommodate for things that are out there now that were not there then. That's a step that has not always been acknowledged."
Results from the study will be published in the Journal of Shellfish Research in December. For further information, visit

Old Wilson Bridge Finds New Life As Artificial Reef for Baby Oysters

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer


Marine biologists and divers hand-delivered 500,000 baby oysters to the first of five new artificial reefs created from the rubble of the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge this week, part of a broader effort to restore the badly depleted oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

On Thursday, a six-person diving crew planted the native oyster spat on 80 acres of concrete slabs on the bay's sandy bottom about 10 miles southwest of Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County. The artificial reef is also providing a habitat for rockfish, black sea bass and other fish.

The project, known as the Dominion Reef at the Gooses, is a "small-scale example" of what Maryland officials could propose to the 2009 General Assembly as part of the state's oyster restoration effort, said Martin Gary, a fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

This week, state and federal environmental officials released a major study addressing ways to revive the bay's oysters. Possible fixes include a temporary harvest moratorium and the introduction of nonnative Asian oysters.

The reef project, estimated to cost $1.4 million for the five sites, represents a far less sweeping but important step, state officials said. "It is not a perfect program, but with what we are trying to do, our hearts are in the right place," Gary said.

The project is one of the largest undertaken by the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, a coalition of groups sharing an interest in improving the environment below the surface of Maryland waters.

Earlier this year, the coalition was involved in dumping old New York subway cars into the Atlantic Ocean to house marine life near Ocean City, and next week it will use old Bay Bridge decks to build an oyster reef in the Severn River.

The latest reef project -- named after the Dominion utility, which donated $275,000 -- attracted about 60 partners, including scientists, corporations, environmental groups and sport fishermen, Gary said.

Before the Wilson Bridge's concrete deck was placed into the water, the bay's floor "was a barren desert," Gary said. "There was no reason for marine life to be there."

In the mid-1800s, an average of 15 million bushels of oysters were caught annually in Maryland waters. The yearly harvest dropped below 1 million bushels in the late 1980s because of disease and pollution, according to experts. In addition, about 2,000 acres of natural oyster habitat disappear each year, said Stephan R. Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

On Thursday, Nick Caloyianis, an Oscar-winning underwater filmmaker from Catonsville who has been documenting the reef project, said there was "an amazing array" of other marine life at the site already.

"It is definitely doing its job as an artificial reef. We are seeing a lot of health down there," he said.

Brian Keehn, president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association and captain of the Canvasback, a boat that transported the divers, biologists and others to the reef, praised the oyster-planting effort.

"This is a win-win for all users of the bay, the fish and the habitat," said Keehn, whose organization had been advocating for artificial reefs for five years.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Groups Support Bid to Revive Native Bay Oysters

There's nothing like the native bay oyster. the Asian oysters have a different taste. AFI

Article By Timothy B. Wheeler

Two leading environmental groups voiced their support yesterday for trying to revive the Chesapeake Bay's native oyster rather than introducing Asian oysters into the estuary.

Delicious Chesapeake Bay Oysters (Last Night's Dinner)

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Nature Conservancy said they believe that native oyster restoration still holds promise - both ecologically and for the seafood industry - and does not pose the risks associated with putting Asian oysters into the bay.

"Given the available information, the combination of native oyster aquaculture and enhanced native restoration clearly provides the best potential for progress with the least amount of risk," said foundation President William C. Baker.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland and Virginia released a 1,500-page draft environmental impact statement yesterday evaluating different strategies for restoring the bay's oyster population, which has shrunk to 1 percent of historic levels because of disease and overharvesting.

Native oyster restoration efforts to date have yielded meager results.

While studies have found that Asian oysters hold promise because they resist the diseases killing native oysters, the foreign species poses several risks, including hurting what's left of the native oysters or introducing yet another shellfish disease to the bay.

The study made no recommendations. Officials say they want public input on the alternatives to help them determine the right course.

Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement declaring that while the study "does not offer a definitive recommendation" on whether to put Asian oysters in the bay, "I remain concerned that the risk of such an irrevocable step could well outweigh any benefit." (Tell it brother).

Virginia officials have backed controlled experiments with sterile Asian oysters in their waters.

Six public meetings will be held to get input.

The Maryland sessions will be on Nov. 12 in Solomons, Nov. 13 in Annapolis and Nov. 14 in Cambridge.

A decision is expected next spring.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Asian Oyster Holds Promise, Risk

Species could re-establish depleted bay fishery, study says
By Timothy B. Wheeler

State officials say they want to hear public views on the Asian oyster. Some environmentalists fear decisions will be based on politics, not science.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Seeding the Chesapeake Bay with disease-resistant Asian oysters could significantly boost the bay's depleted population of the water-cleaning shellfish, according to a federal study to be released next week.

But the study, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun, warns that the foreign species also could harm what's left of the bay's native oyster population - and perhaps spread to threaten ecosystems all along the East Coast.

The draft environmental impact statement by the Army Corps of Engineers lists pros and cons of the controversial proposal to put Asian oysters in the bay, an idea that had been pushed hard by the Ehrlich administration to revive a flagging seafood industry.

But after more than four years of research and debate among scientists, the $17 million study does not make a recommendation about what route would be best for the bay. Officials say they want to hear public views on the matter first.

That stance bothers some environmentalists, who say the decision should be based on science - not a political desire to help the seafood industry.

Jamie King, a former federal scientist who coordinated much of the research that went into the study, called the lack of a recommendation "an abdication of responsibility." She said state and federal agencies had pledged to base their decision on science, but she suspects they will rely on "the court of public opinion."

"They want to see who screams the loudest," she said.

But an O'Malley administration official said restoring the bay's oyster population is a public policy issue that goes beyond science.

"It's not going to be put to a vote, but we're very interested in hearing the public's feedback on the options before us," said Tom O'Connell, fisheries director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. O'Connell said officials want to know how committed people are to restoring the native oyster, and how willing they are to take a chance on an Asian oyster that could cause other problems.

The study, funded by Maryland, Virginia and federal agencies, was launched four years ago to settle a growing debate about the environmental risks of putting non-native oysters in the bay to supplement a native oyster population decimated by parasitic diseases and overharvesting.

The O'Malley administration, unlike Ehrlich's, is "skeptical" about the wisdom of introducing Asian oyster, O'Connell said. After six public meetings over the next two months, the two states and the Army Corps hope to agree early next year on whether to introduce Asian oysters, continue working to restore native oysters, or both.

Oysters are seen by many as a key to the bay's health. Scientists have suggested that the bay's water-quality woes may be linked in part to the drastic decline in bay oysters, since by some estimates they were once so abundant they filtered all the Chesapeake's water every three or four days.

Efforts to restore the native oyster by propagating millions of them in government hatcheries have produced only mixed results to date - though critics point out that in Maryland, watermen are still allowed to harvest many of the publicly produced oysters.

Urged on by its seafood industry, Virginia has been growing sterilized batches of the Asian oyster in its portion of the bay for years to see how they fare. Seafood processors and watermen in both states argue that their livelihood is doomed without a new oyster capable of fending off the parasitic diseases that kill native oysters before they can grow large enough to market.

The study looks not only at seeding the bay with billions of Asian oysters, but at growing sterilized Asian oysters in the bay for commercial use. It also evaluates several options for stepping up efforts to restore native oysters - including a baywide moratorium on harvesting them.

It found that doing everything at once - introducing sterile and reproducing Asian oysters, and boosting native oyster work - offers the best prospects for rebuilding an oyster population in the bay. But that approach also carries the greatest risks of environmental harm, the study warned, and it still may not succeed at restoring oysters to the abundance they had until about 40 years ago.

"I think there's some serious promise" with the Asian oyster, said Kennedy Paynter, a University of Maryland oyster biologist who has worked with both species. "But I think that the potential for serious negative impact that we don't understand yet is still quite high."

Asian oysters have proven fast-growing and resistant to the two parasitic diseases killing native bay oysters. But research in recent years has found that the imports are more vulnerable to predators and poor water quality. They die off relatively quickly when oxygen levels drop in the water - a serious issue, some scientists say, because of the "dead zone" that spreads across the bay bottom in summer.

They also seem to be vulnerable to another parasite than the ones killing native oysters. A batch of Asian oysters being tested in North Carolina died off after becoming infected with Bonamia, an organism not seen in the bay now but capable of surviving in its saltier waters.

If Asian oysters do take hold in the bay, the study says, research has shown that they may compete with native oysters for food and habitat, raising concerns that the import could crowd out the native.

Seafood industry leaders have indicated they'd like to practice aquaculture with sterile Asian oysters, which would grow especially fast and large. But scientists have warned that reproducing Asian oysters could eventually end up in the bay, and then spread. The study says that if that happened, it would take many years.

"That's the ultimate question: How much risk are you willing to accept?" said Jack Travelstead, fisheries director for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Stan Allen, an oyster researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, argues that the risks of using sterile Asian oysters are manageable, and that any escape of reproducing oysters could be detected and cleaned up before they could spread. He suggested that risk ought to be weighed against the prospect of reviving the region's struggling oyster industry.

Other scientists and environmentalists urge caution.

"The burden of proof needs to be on the [advocates of ] introduction to show that it will not result in significant problems," said William Goldsborough, senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"If the Asian oyster is introduced successfully to Chesapeake Bay, that's an irreversible decision ... that still has very uncertain consequences, in terms of risk and benefits," said Denise Breitburg, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater.

"Given that," she said, "we should exhaust all possibilities for native oyster restoration before we do what I consider a drastic step."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Oyster season opened in Virginia a few days ago, October 1st. Tonight I will be steaming three dozen Chesapeake Bay oysters for myself. AAAAHHHHHH.

Welcome Oysterfest 2008!!!

Oyster - #4 of the 10 Eco-best Fish to Eat

The oyster landed in the #4 spot of the 10 Eco-best fish to eat (by the Environmental Defense Fund).

Very interesting.

Here is a link to the original article:

I guess the picture credit is MSN? Oh well.

Original article text:

Oysters (Farmed)

Three species -- Eastern or American oyster, edible oyster and Pacific oysters (covered here) -- are farmed in the U.S.

Originally from Japan, the Pacific or Japanese oyster (a.k.a. Crassostrea gigas, Japanese oyster, Pacific giant oyster) was first introduced on the West Coast from larval seed oysters brought from Japan to British Columbia, where fisheries based on the slow-growing Olympia oyster were in decline. The Pacific oyster is now the most commonly farmed shellfish both in the United States and worldwide. This fast-growing oyster may reach 12 inches (30 cm) long.

Commercial Sources

Pacific oysters are native to northeastern Asia. However, they have been introduced into Europe, North America, East Asia and Oceania.

The main sources of Pacific oysters are China, Japan, South Korea and France. Oysters sold in the U.S. market are primarily from the United States, South Korea, Japan and China.

Capture Methods

Pacific oysters come from shellfish farms. Farmed oysters are raised with suspended systems.

Eco Details

Pacific oysters are not native to North America, but are commonly found in the wild. As filter feeders, they feed on suspended biological matter, helping to keep the water clean. Pacific oysters are raised on suspended ropes, trays, or the ocean floor.

Health Details

Adults and children can safely eat more than 4 meals per month.
Oysters contain low to no contaminant levels.
Oysters are high in heart-healthy omega-3s.

Flavor and Texture

Cook oysters very lightly, only until the mantle curls. Oyster meat has a mild flavor, but the texture can be rubbery.

Buying Tips

Be sure you buy (and cook) them live! Tap on shells to see whether they close; the smell should be natural sea smell, not sulfurous. Store at 34-38 degrees F, in a breathable container. Don't put them in fresh water; it will kill them.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Virginia Watermen Take on Oyster Farming

By SCOTT HARPER | The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - With fewer and fewer wild oysters left to harvest in the Chesapeake Bay, two local watermen are trying their hand at a similar, but altogether different, trade - oyster farming.

With help from an environmental group, the watermen built their own holding tank out of fiberglass, bought 12 million specially bred baby oysters from a hatchery, got them to attach to recycled oyster shells and, on Monday, planted them in mesh bags on the bottom of the Lynnhaven River.

"I made a lot of money crabbing, but that's pretty much gone away," said Pete Nixon, a lifelong commercial fisherman from Norfolk, as he stacked dozens of shell-stuffed oyster bags onto his work boat. "You can't sit still in this business. I've got to keep moving, keep trying something new."

The experiment is the first of its kind on the Lynnhaven, a Virginia Beach waterway once renowned for its big, salty oysters. It also is the first time that such a seafood-farming venture has been directly overseen by watermen themselves, instead of orchestrated by a large company.

"It's a way to keep these guys working," said Tommy Leggett, an oyster scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Virginia, which provided technical assistance and access to grant money for the project.

Nixon and his partner, John Meekins, could earn as much as $100,000 when the baby oysters grow into adults and are sold to restaurants and market houses--"hopefully by next Christmas, or maybe by the Super Bowl," Nixon said with a grin.

The watermen are using a different kind of native oyster, known as "spat-on-shell." Instead of floating freely, the babies, or spat, are allowed to attach to old shells before being planted into a waterway. This way, the larvae stand a better chance of survival in an environment dominated by disease, pollution and cow-nosed rays, sea creatures that can gobble hundreds of baby oysters for breakfast.

The babies also are sterile. This means they can grow to market size faster than regular oysters, which spend much of their energy on spawning.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and state marine officials have proven that sterile, spat-on-shell varieties can grow to maturity in 12 to 18 months, instead of the usual two or three years. When left in the water for so long, most native oysters will have died, succumbing to the diseases MSX and Dermo, which have ravaged Bay stocks to near extinction during the past 50 years.

Successful spat-on-shell experiments by seafood companies in waters off the Potomac River have led to a new wave of oyster farming, or aquaculture, in Virginia. But those ventures involved watermen as simple laborers and boat captains; the Lynnhaven experiment puts the watermen in charge.

"We want to see if the little guys can do it, too," Nixon said Monday. "Can we be profitable on small plots of river bottom, and with few resources at our disposal? That's the key to seeing other guys jump into this."

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Circle C Oyster Ranch

The Circle C Oyster Ranch is nestled in the heart of St. Mary's County on St. Jerome Creek.

Utilizing 200 ft of dock and 3.2 acres of surface water, Circle C raises oysters from free swimming, microscopic larvae all the way to market size. The dock supports 14 upwellers for seed production as well as a lift system for boat access and oyster harvest. The ranch currently boasts a shed for storage, office space and an indoor workshop. With 10 acres of land and 65 acres of water bottom rights, Circle C fully plans to expand further. In fact, there are several projects currently in the works. A hatchery to produce our own oyster larvae, giving us full control of all stages of our Lineback©'s life.

The Floating Oyster ReefTM

At the heart of Circle C's operation is the Floating Oyster ReefTM. Designed by CEO/President Richard Pelz, it is at the forefront of oyster aquaculture technology. One reef contains approximately 1000-1500 oysters and holds them just inches below the surface of the creek. 1000 oyster in only 30 square feet compares wonderfully to the Chesapeake average of 12 1/2 oysters per acre in the wild! Why does this system work? It works because it puts the oysters where the food is. Oysters eat algae that grows in Bay waters. The lions share of fresh algae, and the oxygen it produces, is found in the first 12-18 inches of water. By placing the oysters in that zone of food and oxygen, even a wild oyster's growth rate is bound to increase. In fact, Circle C has shown that wild oysters will as much as double their growth by placing them in our system. This is incredible enough, but when you couple the Floating Oyster ReefTM with Circle C's specially bred Lineback© oyster, the results are phenomenal. We have actually grown oysters from larvae to 4" in only 9 months and to 6" monsters in only 18!

The Oyster

The Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) has long been considered to be the Chesapeake Bay's claim to fame and is a true delicacy in most cultures.

Over the last 15 years, Circle C has been perfecting its strain of eastern oyster, the Lineback©. We took several different genetic lines of oysters, chosen for growth rate, disease resistance and shape, and bred them into our original line. All things said and done, there is about 40 years of selective breeding behind our oyster! The result is the Lineback© oyster, the best oyster in the Bay. The Lineback© has been bred to have an extremely thin shell, to grow extremely fast, and to have a deep cup to it. The oyster grows so fast in fact, that when used in conjunction with the Floating Oyster ReefTM and our seed production system, we can take it from spawn to market in under 18 months! That is less than half the time for a wild oyster to get that big. In fact, every year we get more and more that grow to over five inches! A wild oyster would need five or six years to do that. The deep cup and extra thin shell means a higher meat to shell ratio. In fact, our oysters average about 32% more meat than the same size wild oyster. The thin shell also makes Circle C's Lineback© super easy to open. Instead of shucking the old fashioned way, just take a pair of scissors, snip off the bill, stick in a kitchen knife and presto, half shell oyster!

Good stuff!!!

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CHESAPEAKE BAY: Waterman claims solution to bay's oyster problem

By ANATH HARTMANN • Capital News Service

Richard Pelz, president of Circle C Oyster Ranch at St. Jerome Creek in Ridge, has a better idea for restoring the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population.

"(Maryland's) restoration efforts are going awful because they keep trying to do it the wrong way," Pelz said.

Oysters, decimated in the Chesapeake by pollution and disease, are best grown near the water's surface, he said, so they clear up turbidity and allow light to penetrate.

"If you put oysters in the bottom, or worse yet, in rocks on the bottom, they're removing oxygen, and therefore expanding the dead zone," he said. Dead zones are areas of the bay without oxygen.

Circle C Oyster Ranch

At Circle C Oyster Ranch, Pelz grows the Lineback, a breed of the native Eastern oyster he developed about 15 years ago. The company uses a system of floating oyster reefs that keep the shellfish just inches below the water's surface rather than on the bay floor, where most of the state sanctuaries keep their oysters.

But his ideas have not caught on, and scientists and environmentalists stood by Maryland's restoration methods during a Sept. 10 update before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Oceans and Wildlife.

"Oyster restoration is complex in a large ecosystem like the Chesapeake Bay," Peyton Robertson, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay office, said in his hearing testimony. "Increasing the size and number of sanctuaries is appropriate."

The Eastern oyster has been declining in the bay since the mid-1980s because of past overharvesting, declining water quality and the appearance of MSX and Dermo, two parasitic diseases.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources operates 24 oyster sanctuaries in the bay, ranging in size from 5 acres to more than 5,000 acres. Yet the waterway's number of Eastern oysters is 1 percent of what it was just 50 years ago, according to the department.

Pelz has another contrarian view: The size limit imposed on watermen is contributing to the oyster's decline. Oysters smaller than three inches when harvested must be returned to the water.

"Oysters are funny critters -- they change sex when they reach maturity," Pelz said. At a growth rate of roughly an inch per year, the smaller oysters are all males, then after a year or so they become females, he said.

"So what . . . they're putting back in the beds are male (and) diseased. If you do that to any population -- take out the best every time -- it's going to go downhill."

Though Pelz said he is having no trouble making a living harvesting the Lineback oyster, which grows faster than some others, other Maryland watermen say they are struggling.

Mike Hamilton, once a successful bay waterman with his own seafood wholesale business, several years ago abandoned fishing and oyster-harvesting in favor of general contract work.

"There was not enough money in it," said Hamilton, owner of M. Hamilton & Sons. "I still buy seafood every now and then, I still sell it but . . . I very seldom go out and get it myself. I got kids in college. I need a certain amount of money."

Pelz said he has long believed the state's methods of oyster-restoration were doomed to failure but has not held out hope that the Lineback would become widely grown.

"It's embarrassing (for the state)," he said. "I'm not a scientist. I'm just a farmer."

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