Posts tagged oysters
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Tasty, sustainably-raised oysters improving waterways and living their best lives on the    Barrier Island Oyster farm    outside of Charleston, near Wadmalaw Island, S.C.  Photo: jessgraves.com

Tasty, sustainably-raised oysters improving waterways and living their best lives on the Barrier Island Oyster farm outside of Charleston, near Wadmalaw Island, S.C. Photo: jessgraves.com

Hey friends,

I hope you’ll forgive a break from our regularly-scheduled programming today for an important message concerning everyone’s favorite bivalve.

There’s something of a turf war waging in South Carolina, one that’s catching honest farmers in the net of one of the South’s worst traditions: the reluctance to change.

Despite the fact that oyster farms are good for the environment, make for better fishing, boost the economy and — oh — produce delicious, nutritious food (!) a group of change-averse folks in Charleston are attempting to cook up some half-baked legislation to prevent farms from thriving. It is as short-sighted as it is ill-informed — the details are outlined more below in a letter from our friends at Toadfish Outfitters.

Here’s my two cents: the South’s identity is one long-defined by its food, farming and rural cultures. We need future generations to evolve alongside our changing land and waterways — to be not only good stewards, but champions of the place we call home. And while the past is never dead, it can still be “past”. Being amenable to change, especially when that change is an investment in the future of our community, is not only progress by definition, it’s just plain good sense. Which is why even if you don’t eat oysters, reside in South Carolina, or sport on its waters, I hope you’ll still chime in.

- Jess


“Not too long ago, the Chesapeake Bay and Pacific Northwest’s oyster populations were almost completely eradicated by disease and overfishing, (NOAA, 2019). What both of those regions realized too late is that the cost and time required to restore a wild oyster population goes up dramatically after the oysters are wiped out. It has taken the Pacific Northwest nearly 40 years to start to see significant results of replenishing their wild oyster population (Puget Sound Institute, 2019). 

Unfortunately, South Carolina is currently flirting with the same outcome as those two famous oyster regions.  All it takes is one major event, like a hurricane or disease outbreak, to completely wipe out the population leading to decades of expensive rebuilding. That is why it is crucial to practice preventative restoration rather than the forced restoration that happens after the damage is done.  

There is a small group of farmers using the latest preventative mariculture techniques to revive the industry and replenish the Lowcountry waterways with oysters. Mariculture not only takes the stress off of the wild resource by offering a locally-sourced alternative, but it has the potential to dramatically reduce the state’s shell deficit of 10,000 bushels per year (Ben Dyar, SCDNR). 

Unfortunately, these South Carolina oyster farmers have recently become the target of a small group of Charlestonians who want to see mariculture farms shut down or have the industry become so regulated that oyster farmers can not continue to run their businesses efficiently.  

Opponents claim that oyster farms block waterways, are deterrents of wildlife, and our permits are too easy to obtain. In reality: 

1. Oyster farms have strict navigational guidelines including being 50 ft. from the shore at low tide and not taking up more than 33% of the navigable waterway as determined bythe Army Corps of Engineers. All of the gear is subject to U.S. Coast Guard marking standards. 

2.    The floating cages used to raise the oysters encourage and attract wildlife -- crabs, fin fish, lobsters, octopie, juvenile fish, shrimp, inshore and offshore fish (seabass, grouper)(NOAA, 2019) flock to these oyster cages for shelter and feed off of the nutrients the oysters provide.

3.    Oyster farms go through a rigorous process to obtain permits and licenses to run their farms. The permitting process takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months and goes through three separate government agencies (SCDNR, OCRM, and the Army Corps of Engineers). The total out of pocket cost just to submit a permit is around $8,000 which is non-refundable if the permit isn’t issued.

These farms are fully sustainable, give back to the ecosystem, and provide jobs and money to the local (usually rural) economies in Charleston and the rest of the Lowcountry. The oysters coming out of the South Carolina oyster farms are world-class and are a favorite among dozens of restaurants in the state, giving locals and tourists a true taste of the Lowcountry.  

Please sign this petition to show your support for SC oyster farmers. Send a message loud and clear to legislators.”

- from our friends at Toadfish Outfitters

How to (Humanely) Cook a Blue Crab (and an Oyster Made for Instagram)

So, what’s been the haps? I’ve been eating well, for one. Well, sort of. A few weekends ago, my friend Mary Logan hosted a group at her family home on St. Simon’s Island. We decamped into two vehicles and wound our way to Dockside Seafood near Shellman’s Bluff, where we filled a cooler with a gluttonous amount of blue crabs to take back to the house for dinner.

Shellman Crab Company in Shellman’s Bluff, Georgia. Photo: jessgraves.com

Shellman Crab Company in Shellman’s Bluff, Georgia. Photo: jessgraves.com

I shared the somewhat gruesome process of live crabs plopping into boiling water on my Instagram stories — and was immediately flooded with messages from all kinds of people fussing that we had not gone about the whole thing correctly.

I’m going to let us off the hook a bit here — we did go out of our way to buy local, sustainably-caught seafood. However, rather than an abrupt, sizzling hot dunk, you, dear people of the Internet, let it be known that we should have slipped Sebastian into the freezer before the death knell rung. This is apparently far more humane, because it numbs the ol’ boys up before their untimely (legs first - again, more humane!) free dive into the molten hot tub of doom we like to call a stock pot.

Piles on piles of blue crabs. Photo: jessgraves.com

Piles on piles of blue crabs. Photo: jessgraves.com

To you, fair crustacean-crusading friends, I apologize on behalf myself and my heathen friends. At the very least, rest easy knowing it went to the nourishment of everyone’s bodies. Well… except mine. The irony of catching Instagram’s full wrath on behalf of a creature I cannot eat does not escape me — I’m allergic.

Divine Pine oysters from North Carolina plated at Watchman’s Seafood & Spirits in Atlanta. Photo: jessgraves.com

Divine Pine oysters from North Carolina plated at Watchman’s Seafood & Spirits in Atlanta. Photo: jessgraves.com

Speaking on the subject of seafood I can consume, I’ve had the pleasure of eating a lot of good oysters lately. More on that in the coming months, but do want to share one bivalve that stood out in particular — the infinitely cool “Divine Pine”, which is a blue-hued oyster out of North Carolina. The curious sea glass-color is a result of a nutritious native algae bloom called Halsea, which filters through the gills and leaves behind a really distinct-looking oyster. Not only do they make a pretty picture, they’re excellent eating. I had mine at the raw bar at Atlanta’s Watchman’s SeafoodI & Spirits (I wrote the spot up here for Eater, if you’re curious), but I imagine you could request ‘em (grown by the folks at N.Sea) on the board at any reputable dining establishment.

‘Til next time, land lubbers!