As oyster distributors, this is the most challenging time of the year for us. It is not just the weather that is the issue, but rather the availability of the seasonal crops that we have been depending on in the warmer months. Dan Light, our Vice President and head buyer, works through this issue every year. It takes strategy, diligent communication, and most of all, flexibility in order to make sure that we have the diverse roster that we are so proud of. Here are his insights:
Two years ago, we had one of the snowiest years on record, with storms accumulating in feet, not inches. While moving around the city was difficult, it was even more difficult for farmers and harvesters to access their leases leaving us with almost no product to sell. This stint lasted from January through March with some farms being completely iced over or buried in massive snow drifts. How did we cope? We were able to rely on a few harvesters that could brave the weather and burst through ice floes with metal-hulled boats on the east coast, while sourcing more heavily from other waters. As you can see in the pictures to the left and above, Canadian harvesters are able to cut through ice of an appropriate thickness to access their cages and trays. On the West Coast, our various vendors were able to produce more product for us from Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, and Alaska.
Last year, we had a plan in place and we were ready to face the extreme New England weather as the year before prepared us for the worst, but winter never really came. There were some cold temperatures with hardly any snow, which provided us with a more optimistic outlook for the product availability going into early spring. What we were not prepared for was the supply from the farms. While they were able to access their leases and grants, the volume simply was not there. This was not only because of seed mortality from the extreme year before, but also from some questionable planning by some. In 2015, the sale of cocktail size oysters (2.5-2.75 inches) became legal from farmer to vendor in the state of Massachusetts, meaning it took less time for oysters to grow to market size (3.25-3.75 inches). Many took advantage of this as it was an opportunity to sell their product immediately, but prevented having a substantial Cape inventory going into the leaner months. Thankfully, we were able to rely once again on some Canadian and West Coast product to fill in the gaps and to maintain our diverse inventory.
For this coming season, we have an even more extensive plan in place. This winter has been cold, then warm, then cold again, leaving us with some interesting situations. Strong winds make it difficult to harvest certain winter staples, such as Belons and Blue Points, but the mild start to the winter has provided us with good supply of local product for a little longer than we have seen in years past. The farmers along the Cape have planned a bit better this year ensuring that we have access to cocktail and select size oysters so the heavy lean on West Coast or Canadian product has not been as dire.
Speaking of Blue Points, the inventory what we were able to rely on in years’ past is now quite tight. Updates from farmers and harvesters state that there was some seed loss from predation and fluctuating temperatures. This is an example of a hurdle that we could not plan for, but are able to make adjustments where needed.
As you can see, every year is a new and different challenge according to availability and weather. What helps Dan is that he is in constant communication with our suppliers via text, email, smoke signal, and phone call, and can plan accordingly after. It is the relationships that we have with our various vendors that really helps us to remain flexible and prepared for whatever may come our way.