Spring 2016 Oyster Supply Update

Starting to notice the limited oyster supply lately?

It’s that time of year again...

Oyster supply varies from year to year because you never know what Mother Nature has up her sleeves. But one trend is clear: oysters always tend to be limited from spring to early summer.

This past winter has been one of the mildest winters we have seen, and compared to last year, it was a cake walk. Product availability was better because harvesters were able to access their oyster beds, and they had plans for the worst. Every spring, though, oyster inventories dwindle, and farms go offline, leaving a void in supply as we are starting to see now. Oysters will stay limited until early summer as growers wait for their crop to reach market size.

The good news is if water temperatures continue to stay agreeable, farmed baby oysters will be ready earlier this summer than in years past. Overall oyster supply will begin to recover in May when wild Canadian oysters become available. Until then, we appreciate your flexibility and understanding during the limited season.

For the full supply update by area, read on below.

 
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New England farm inventories running low

As mentioned in the summary above, New England oysters become limited during the spring because farms run out of market-sized oysters or they stop harvesting to focus on seed and gear work. Some growers will continue to sell their petite oysters, but others will choose to wait until late summer or fall when their oysters reach 3.5 inches.

In addition to fewer farmed varieties, we will stop seeing wild Massachusetts oysters from town-managed areas when the season closes in April. These shellfish areas are typically open from November to April each year.

We won’t be able to drag until May. Oysters can get chipped in the process, so they need to be pumping in order for them to heal.
— Ben on harvesting by drag

New England supply is limited, but not non-existent. Some farms have supply to go year-round and others still have inventories that will last well into the summer. One thing growers will still face is bad weather. Terrible winds even on a beautiful sunny day can make it dangerous to be out on the water.

Growers aim to increase production each year, so when oyster farms gradually come back online, New England supply will improve.

Canadian Maritimes still dealing with ice and limited inventories

The Maritimes is a powerhouse region for oysters, so when Canadian oyster supply starts to wane, the market definitely feels it. As temperatures warm in the spring, iced over areas start to melt. This ice makes it difficult for oyster growers to access their beds: it's too thick to penetrate easily, but too thin to support any weight safely.

Winter kill is another problem. If dead oysters are not caught during a farm’s culling process, they can open during transit and stink up a whole bag. It only takes one party foul oyster to ruin the other ninety-nine perfectly fine oysters. We had so many issues with winter kill in the past that we decided to wait until quality improves on certain Canadian varieties before offering them again.

Maritime farms are also dealing with limited inventories. Farmed oysters take much longer to grow there than in New England. Sometimes it takes four to five years for oysters to reach market size, so when a farmer is out of oysters, the farm may go offline until the next crop is ready.

Once the ice clears, Canadian oyster supply will be in better shape, helping overall supply. Farms will be able to get their oyster gear back in the water, and oystermen can go back to harvesting wild oysters such as Malpeque Oysters.

Supply stable in other regions, but may be affected by warmer water temperatures

Spring supply for oysters from Long Island Sound, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Pacific should stay relatively stable barring any bad weather. However, since waters seem to be warmer earlier this year, there could be earlier closures around the country. When areas in the Gulf are closed, Mid-Atlantic demand increases putting pressure on the region’s supply. Pacific oysters may spawn earlier affecting product quality, and vibrio regulations may necessitate closures.

Ellen M. Banner for the Seattle Times

Ellen M. Banner for the Seattle Times

With all things considered, the oyster supply forecast is looking pretty good for the summer and fall. So let's enjoy the sun, get through the spring, and ramp up for this summer's seafood season. As always, ask us if you need help finding substitutions or would like a recommendation with fairly steady supply. We're here for your oyster needs!