Lately, oyster supply has been really tight and this is due, in part, to the growing cycle. So, lets take a moment to talk about that - most local oyster growers receive their oyster spat in late April or early May when the waters begin to warm. It takes at least 18 months to grow an oyster to 3 inches. Sometimes it can take four to five years but for the purposes of this exercise, lets stick with 18 months. If you fast forward 18 months from April when farmers receive their spat, you will find yourself in October of the following year happily harvesting market-ready oysters.
Let's go back 18 months, knowing what we now know about how long it takes the average oyster to grow from seed to market size. We find ourselves in the very early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic with seemingly endless uncertainties abounding. Many local farmers made the tough decision to purchase less seed than normal and some purchased none at all. So, here we are, back in present day - demand higher than ever and supply dwindling.
But, we haven't taken into account the plain and simple fact that weather directly affects the oyster supply. When there is ice, it can be difficult or dangerous to harvest; when there are strong winds, it is unsafe for fishermen to get out on the water, and regulations in many towns do not allow shell fishing when the air temperature is 28º F or below. Heavy rain and algae blooms can also cause closures regardless of the season.
This year, Gulf closures beginning in January put pressure on Mid-Atlantic oyster supply which, in turn, put pressure to the Canadian oyster supply. With many Canadian farms now fighting ice, everyone has turned to New England. Local growers are waiting on the oyster seed they received last spring to reach market size, and the season for wild Massachusetts oysters from town-managed areas ends in April.
But, it's not all doom and gloom oysters always tend to be limited in the spring and production will improve as temperatures get warmer. Once the ice clears, Canadian farmers will be able to get their oyster gear back into the water, and go back to harvesting wild oysters. Supply will steadily increase from now until the fall.
For now, we ask for your patience, understanding, and flexibility as we weather this difficult time of year together. Please educate your colleagues and customers now as supply will continue to be limited in the coming weeks.