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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Virginia's First Oyster Co-op Launched

Businessmen, watermen and scientists have collaborated to launch Virginia's first privately funded oyster co-op.

The Oyster Company of Virginia, founded in August by Northern Neck businessman W. Tolar Nolley, is goinf to equip a dozen watermen with the resources they need to farm oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

The cooperative will lease acres of bay bottom from the state, and buy oyster seed and cages to grow the oysters. Salaried watermen will then plant the seeds, and harvest and sell the mature oysters.

Profits from the program will pay the watermen's salary, fund the purchase of new equipment, and expand the program, said Ken Smith, president of the Virginia State Waterman's Association.

"I've never seen 12 people so excited in my life," said Smith, chief operating officer of the cooperative, which will officially unveil its plans Thursday at The Watermen's Museum in Yorktown.

Chesapeake oysters have been plagued for decades by disease, loss of habitat and pollution. They are at less than 1 percent of their peak historic population. Many watermen have resisted calls to abandon the centuries-old hunter-gatherer approach in favor of oyster farming, also known as aquaculture.

The industry has made numerous advances in the last decade, most notably developing more disease-tolerant oyster seeds, that have made aquaculture a more viable option. That, combined with the endorsement of Smith and others trusted by watermen, led to the cooperative's formation.

It hopes to reruit more watermen in the coming years and attract corporate support by promoting the program as a way to reduce bay pollution, Smith said. Oysters, which filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, help rid the bay of excess nutrients that cause dead zones and other problems.

"The oyster has a positive effect cleaning up the bay," Smith said.

The cooperative plans to lobby state and federal officials to include their efforts in the "pollution diet" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is drafting for the bay.

The effort is similar to one introduced two years ago by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. It used part of the $15 million it received to revive the Chesapeake's blue crab population to train dozens of watermen to farm oysters.

In addition to oyster farming, Oyster Company of Virginia has partnered with Reeftek Inc., a reef-building company run by Middle Peninsula businessman Robert Jensen. The cooperative will work will Reeftek to create oyster sanctuaries, Smith said.


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Monday, September 27, 2010

Oyster Festivals

Oyster festivals are the EVENT OF THE YEAR for oyster lovers!

I am not a vendor, oysterman, or merchant. You will not see me at a festival offering or selling anything. I am just an fan and oyster lover.

I enjoy the oysterfest atmosphere (almost as much as I love eating oysters).

The people that you meet and the sounds and experiences makes one feel good to be alive.

Just imagine any county fair that you have been to:

The sounds, the smells, the tastes. All of that and more can be found in any oyster festival.

You can also find ALL of the usual fare: Corndogs, Italian sausages and Phillys, funnel cakes, and of course candy apples, and Peanut butter and Jelly on a stick? - (it's probably pretty good).

PB&J on a stick - photo by Cheryl Carlin.


Now of course, I am going for the oysters...

I will most likely hit a good half dozen vendors - which are usually churches or civic organizations - and buy (and eat) 1/2 dozen oysters from each.

My choice of fried, raw, or steamed on the half shell will depend on the conversations that I have with the employees working the tent. I like to engage the workers around the corner or at the back of the tent.

If the group is a church that is opening jars of shucked oysters and frying in a secret recipe - well... - give me an order of fried oysters RIGHT NOW! - with a healthy portion of their homemade dipping sauce - mmmmmm.

If the tent represents a local restaurant who buys fresh from local oystermen - and I talk with the guy in charge and believe that the oysters that they are serving right then were pulled from the water earlier - well they need to immediately serve me some oysters raw - on the half shell (probably a full dozen).

Anything questionable - give me 1/2 dozen steamed on the half shell - and I'm moving on.

To all of my readers:
I'm sorry that I haven't posted for a while. It;s all thanks to the new job and all. I will return soon.

Check out the new recipe that I posted on our blog: OYSTER BLOG

I hope to see you all at the 53rd Annual Oyster Festival in Urbanna Virginia. November 5th and 5th 2010.

Check out the oyster festival website: HERE


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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Chesapeake Bay is Fighting its Own 'Oil Spill'

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Wheeler posted this thought-provoking item on the B'More Green blog.

This map shows the BP Gulf oil slick superimposed over the Chesapeake Bay.

That really puts things into perspective.

For those of us in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, here’s another thought: the Bay has been struggling against a similarly sized danger for years in the form of high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollution.

In a recent post on Chronicling the Chesapeake Bay, CBF Senior Scientist Beth McGee notes there are many similarities between the Gulf disaster and the Bay’s poor health. The big difference is one you can see and one you can't.

"I think it is in a sense that nitrogen is our oil," said McGee. Degraded water quality makes portions of the Bay unlivable for fish, oysters, and crabs.

It also puts stress on those that remain, making them more susceptible to disease, "which is exactly what oil does."

"We’re not outraged because it's not in our face, like it is in the face of the folks in the Gulf," said McGee, referring to the fact that views of our waterways from the surface are misleading, as most of the damage is taking place underwater.

The reality is that what is happening to communities in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana is exactly what has been happening for years to communities in Virginia, Maryland, and throughout the Bay watershed—people can't go fishing, they can't buy fresh seafood, and those who make a living off the water have lost and continue to lose their livelihood and their culture.

That's why CBF is fighting hard for passage of the Chesapeake Clean Water Act, the most significant legislation for the Bay's future health since the 1972 Clean Water Act.

As for whether the Gulf spill will make its way to Virginia’s shoreline: "it’s highly unlikely", as stated by a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as reported by

Any oil that makes it into the Gulf Stream—which flows fairly close to North Carolina before veering east into the Atlantic—will likely remain in the stream.

However, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will continue to monitor the situation.

While the oil might not make its way to the Chesapeake Bay region, its impact on the Gulf's oyster fishery has.

Bay-area oyster processors who rely on Gulf oysters have lost work and restoration efforts that rely on Gulf shell anticipate shortages.


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