Oysters have been in the news lately and not only because consumer demand for slurping briny bivalves is growing, but because from the Pacific Coast to the Eastern Shore, oyster populations are in grave danger.
Unfortunately, the numbers are not promising. For instance, on the Eastern Shore alone, the Chesapeake Bay oyster populations are currently only about one percent of their historic abundance. And this is the story up and down the coasts of our country.
However, conservation groups such as The Nature Conservancy and the Oyster Recovery Partnership are hoping to find a solution to remedy this disturbing data. Through their work observing and studying oyster reefs and their populations, two major ideas have emerged as significant parts of the solution:
Aquaculture. The art of aquaculture involves cultivating marine or freshwater food fish or shellfish, such as oysters, under controlled conditions. There are many benefits to using an aquaculture farm, but one of the biggest is that shellfish farms do not require artificial feed, as oysters filter their food (algae) naturally from the waters in which they live, therefore lowering overall costs and reducing waste. Since shellfish farms represent one of the most sustainable forms of aquaculture and fish production, they are believed to be a big part of the solution. Check out the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association or the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association for more aquaculture information.
Locality. Supporting your local farmer, whether they harvest a crop or shellfish, is always a good thing and something everyone can feel good about! Not only do you support your local community and get to know your local farmers, but you also help keep them afloat with your patronage, since most farmers are generally smaller operators. Additionally, by sourcing locally, your products are readily available – so in this case, your oysters are fresher and there’s less of an environmental impact in transferring them to you.
So, do your homework. As a restaurant professional, this important industry topic should be carefully considered during any menu development process. By being proactive and supportive of this issue, we can help keep oysters flourishing in our waters so we can continue to enjoy this delicacy. Whether served raw, baked, steamed or grilled, or used to flavor sauces, soups or stews, oysters are a great addition to any menu!
Check out VSAG, The Nature Conservancy and the Oyster Recovery Partnership for more information.