This year was a roller coaster of events. We had a mild winter which alleviated some stress from ice outs of years past yet we were more susceptible to algal blooms, recalls and closures from the summer’s drought. We saw more oyster bars popping up all over the country as the Nation’s appetite for bivalves is becoming more insatiable. Here is the start of what may be in store for 2017.
Health regulations continue to adjust on both coasts
Vibrio regulations are still under a magnifying glass, as adjustments to protocol come at a yearly clip. These requirements have oyster farmers closely monitoring the temperature at harvest, making sure the product is iced to below a certain temperature within a strict time parameter. These regulations are in place on both coasts, but the specifics vary by state. The tighter regulations can, and often do affect production, especially in Washington and British Columbia during the months of July and August. Precaution is the name of the game here.
ASP (Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning) and PSP (aka Red Tide) are still closely monitored at time of harvest. While PSP doesn't readily affect the American Oyster species, ASP does. We saw a closure halt production in parts of Maine, southern Cape Cod and Narragansett Bay due to ASP this fall. This was a first in our history as far as we know. State run tests will continue to be routine, as safety is always the primary concern. We are hoping ASP isn't a yearly concern, and It was only a fluke due to the drought this past summer.
Snow, snow, and more snow
We have already seen a bit more snow than this same time last winter and signs point to more coming our way. We thankfully have some bad-ass harvesters who can brave the weather, but not all are so fortunate. What this could mean for harvesting is that the icy weather will inhibit some supply with ice flows, wind, snow drifts, etc. This is especially true in Canada, where our harvesters are often cutting through 3 feet of ice with chain saws. The snow can be more trouble than the ice, making access to their beds difficult. This was the case 2 years ago when 5 feet of snow covered the ice on PEI, making travel to the beds treacherous and in most cases impossible.
The supply is looking promising so far, as the next generation of oysters is looking strong and plentiful. Many growers have ramped up production over the past few years, which will hopefully mean more oysters than usual this coming spring. The key to a good spring supply will be a mild winter, which will affect mortality rates on the local farms, and harvest schedules up and down the coast. Many growers are happy to sell cocktail sized oysters, and with new Mass regulations allowing sale and consumption in our state, this could alleviate some supply concerns this coming spring.
The oyster bar glut will come to an end
It seems that there is a new oyster bar on every corner, flooding the market with a varety of menu types. In previous educational content, we have expanded on the types of oysters used for various types of oyster services from dollar oyster nights and fine dining to the dedicated oyster bar.
At 167 Raw in Charleston, South Carolina, the goal is to serve a wide array of high quality oysters. They carry about eight rotating varieties from the North East, as well as one to two selections form the West Coast. Their goal is to serve customers based on the purest form of the oyster. If a customer is not sure what to order, the chef selects a variety making sure the customer has a diverse experience.
In Brooklyn, NY, Greenpoint Fish and Lobster is home to a restaurant as well a a retail counter. Owner Vinny Milburn states that his customers are starting to branch out from the names and locations that they are used to, such as Wellfleet, Montauk, and Martha’s Vineyard to more creative names and new locations. It is a parallel experience to that of the wine industry, as consumers are branching out from simple varietals to more creative labeling. Another deciding factor for a push to more oyster consumption is that the eco-conscious clientele is looking for more sustainable dining selections of which oysters are at the top of that list. Thanks to organizations like the Billion Oyster Project, the image of the oyster is that of paramount importance to the restoration of local shorelines, and it resonates to the end user.
Dollar oyster nights are only a gateway into the world of bivalves. After slurping back Blue Points and Malpeques, the more adventurous eater will crave new locations and names and establishments, like 167 Raw and Greenpoint, with more curated menus and specialized services will reign supreme.
Cocktail oysters are here to stay
Cocktail oysters are now available for sale in the state of Massachusetts, meaning that eastern oysters can be served at a size smaller than three inches. This not only opens up a variety of oysters newly available to local establishments, but it also means that local farmers are able to harvest their crop earlier instead of waiting for the oysters to reach market size. Another benefit to the speed of harvest is that the price points are lower providing some more high end accessible options for those on a budget.
The dollar oyster night is here to stay, yet the finely tuned oyster bars are the ones that will become the epitome of bivavlve worship. Look for more dedicated establishments for a more focused and detailed experience so you can #eatmoreoysters.