Battle of the Shuckers at the 2014 Boston Seafood Festival

There was a heated battle on the Boston Fish Pier this past Sunday...

18 shuckers

288 oysters

and 3 cash prizes.

THE BATTLE OF THE SHUCKERS WAS ON!

If you weren't able to join us last Sunday at the Boston Seafood Festival, you missed some crazy action. Despite the rain and thunderstorms, the shuckers showed up, ready for action with their shucking knives and competitive spirit to vie for $500, $250, and $100.

Boston oyster establishments sent their top shuckers to represent, and we were excited to have the following shuckers show off their skills:

Aurelio DiMuzio from Big Rock Oyster Company
Anton Christen from Union Oyster House
Brian Kuhlen from East Coast Grill
Camden Holland from Wellfleet, MA
Eric Brochy from Big Rock Oyster Company
Esteban Luebbert from Maré Oyster Bar
Hamid Turabi from Legal Sea Foods
Jimmy McDonnell from Union Oyster House
Joe Turner from Turner's Seafood
Kevin Lyman from John Nagle Company
Mamadou Diallo from Union Oyster House
Max Bell from East Coast Grill
Michael McKiernan from Legal Sea Foods
Mike Haun from Union Oyster House
Ryan Kripp from Turner's Seafood
Ryan Russell from Brookline, MA
Scott Thompson from Big Rock Oyster Company
Tom Lanigan from Hostess Catering

These fine gents put on an amazing show and sent oyster shells flying into the audience! If you missed the action, here's a video of the final round featuring the top 6 shuckers:

Judges taking a good look at the competition oysters. From left: Dan Enos (Oceanaire), Stephen Oxaal (B&G Oysters), Nicki Hobson (Island Creek Oyster Bar), and Richard Rush (Oyster Information).

Judges taking a good look at the competition oysters. From left: Dan Enos (Oceanaire), Stephen Oxaal (B&G Oysters), Nicki Hobson (Island Creek Oyster Bar), and Richard Rush (Oyster Information).

Look at the gathering crowd!

Look at the gathering crowd!

Shuckers were scored by their finishing time and presentation. Time penalties were added if oysters were hacked, not completely severed from the shell, or served on a broken shell. Judges were Richard Rush from Oyster Information, Dan Enos from Oceanaire Boston, Nicki Hobson from Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Stephen Oxaal from B&G Oysters. Every plate was scrutinized, and after two heats and one final round, there were 3 shuckers who came out on top...

1st Place - Ryan Kripp from Turner's Seafood
2nd Place - Mamadou Diallo from Union Oyster House
3rd Place - Hamid Turabi from Legal Sea Foods

Guess now we know where to expect beautifully shucked oysters in Boston! Thanks to everyone who came out to shuck, judge, volunteer, and spectate! Special thanks to Kria Sakakeeny for her awesome emcee'ing and Boston Fisheries Foundation for sponsoring the prizes.

battleoftheshuckers6.jpg


Keep Calm and Shuck On!

Manila Clams, Where Art Thou?

We talk a lot about oysters at Pangea Shellfish because we're an oyster wholesaler (duh), but we also sell a ton of clams, especially manila clams from Washington state!

Manila clams (Venerupis philippinarum) are hard shell clams that resemble littlenecks, but should never be mistaken as the same thing. They were accidentally introduced to Washington in oyster seed shipments from Japan and have thrived in Pacific Northwest waters since. Since their siphons are short, they live fairly high in the intertidal zone burying only up to 4" deep into the mud or gravel. Being so close to the surface allows easy access to food in the water, but also makes them easy targets for hand picking and raking.

Getting product from the West Coast can be logistically tricky. Our West Coast vendors harvest the shellfish, pack the shellfish so they stay fresh for the next 24 hours, drop it off at a freight forwarder, and get it on a plane direct to Boston. We then pick it up at the airport and make sure all the shellfish are strong and alive, and if not, they visit our wet storage system for a drink of water before being packed and shipped to our customers.

Female manila clam spawning in the water. Photo credit: www.fao.org.

Female manila clam spawning in the water. Photo credit: www.fao.org.

Like many other bivalves, manila clams are summer spawners because of the warmer water temperatures. When bivalves spawn, most of their energy gets channeled into reproducing, so it takes a few weeks for them to regain their strength. The meats are unaffected, but the strength of their abductor muscles to stay closed decreases. Unfortunately, harvesters are unable to detect spawning clams, so weak clams can easily end up in a shipment to Boston. They might be alive and okay when they leave Washington, but after flying and moving around for 10+ hours, many of them may decide to call it quits. We try to nurse the live ones back to health in our wet storage before shipping them to our customers, but there's nothing we can do about the dead except mourn them and apologize to our customers about an unfulfilled order.

If they do survive the flight, we recommend that our customers ice the heck out of them. Shelf life of manila clams decreases dramatically in their weakened state, so keeping them cool will help with their survival.

When are manila clams at their best?

Manila Clams will be best around winter time (like many other bivalves). We do sell them year-round, but as mentioned above, they can be weak in the warmer months. Chefs prefer them because of their long shelf life, so during the cooler months, manilas are a solid choice.

So what's a good manila clam substitute for now?

Cockles from New Zealand will be a good sub until manilas are back strong. Chefs are looking for visually stunning and interesting clams to use over New England littlenecks and cockles definitely fit that bill.

Why is there a limited availability of West Coast shellfish right now?

Besides spawning manila clams, we're also seeing limited amounts of West Coast oysters due to precautionary vibrio or biotoxin closures. For an updated closure map like the one you see below, you can visit the Washington State Department of Health site here.

Please check with us on availability of West Coast items because we gotta let Mother Nature do her thing. Besides, spawning shellfish means happy shellfish for generations to come!

Welcome Kate Levinter To the Pangea Shellfish Team

We are so excited to have Kate join the Pangea team! We asked her a few questions to get to know her better:

How did you first become interested in oysters?

I first became interested in oysters  while working at the Summer Shack in Back Bay.  I had never eaten one before, but figured in order to sell them I would need to familiarize myself.  The first oyster I ate went down whole and I felt sick afterwards.  But I found myself oddly craving more the next day.  So I continued to sample them, and after a few days I was hooked! Now I would eat them every day if I could!

What were you doing up to a year ago?

A year ago I was living in Eastham, working at Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet. After spending two summers and one looong winter on Cape Cod, I was ready to come home.  I moved back to Boston in October and was part of the opening team of Row 34, Boston’s newest oyster bar. Eight months later, I decided to try something new and am now part of the fantastic team here at Pangea! 

What’s your drink of choice?

Non-alcoholic: Water! Hydration is important.
Wine: My two favorites - Raventos i  Blanc Gran Reserva Cava, and Gobelsberger Rose. Both pair amazingly well with oysters!

If you had one super power, what would it be and why?

I would like to be able to breathe underwater.  I’ve always been a water baby!

What song are you digging right now?

Favorite song right now: American Kids by Kenny Chesney - great summer song to rock out to and sing along with.

What’s your favorite oyster and why?

Sunken Meadow from Eastham. Unique savory quality.  Like chicken soup!

Please welcome Kate in the next coming weeks! She looks forward to speaking and meeting every one of our customers and fans. If you need any wine recommendations, Kate knows her stuff!

Connecticut 2014 Vibrio Control Plan Updated

At Pangea, Blue Point Oysters are a staple, but lately, they have been so hard to come by. When we asked our Blue Point harvesters why, many of them pointed to the new Connecticut 2014 Virbio parahaemolyticus Control Plan. Connecticut has enacted two versions of the control plan: one set of regulations for Darien, Norwalk, and Westport; and one set of regulations for all other CT areas.

Strangely, I couldn't find the updated control plan posted on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture Aquaculture site. So, I reached out to them and have posted it here for everybody's information:

So what's the difference?

All oysters harvested between June 1 and August 31 inclusive from the waters of Darien, Norwalk or Westport shall be immediately placed into an on-vessel ice slurry (or method Approved by the DA/BA) for rapid cooling to 50°F internal temperature.
— Connecticut 2014 VPCP

The main difference is the time required to cool the oysters to <50º F from time of harvest. In DNW regulations, harvesters are expected to rapid cool their oysters within one hour versus 5 hours in all other areas. For DNW harvesters, that means once the oysters are out of the water, they need to cull, clean, bag, AND rapid cool the oysters down to <50º F all within 60 minutes. For smaller boats that do not have slurries or processing equipment, this can be extremely difficult to do for a boat load of oysters.

Since we get most of our Blue Points from Norwalk and Westport waters, supply has been constrained because harvesters do not have the time (and/or boat) capacity to harvest substantial amounts of oysters. Instead, many harvesters are turning to clams because it's a better use of their time.

If these regulations do what they are intended to do, which is to prevent vibrio outbreaks, then it might be hard to argue any "undue hardships." Regulators are creating these plans based on the best information available, but more concrete data is needed. To the industry, some of these regulations seem a bit arbitrary. For example, why one hour and not two? These are questions many of us have on our minds, but only time will tell what will work and whether regulations will evolve as we test and learn.

How can we minimize vibrio risk this year?

Click to download the Pangea Shellfish Vibrio 2014 Update Information Sheet

Today marks the first day of vibrio season in Massachusetts. Effective May 19 through October 19, more aggressive control plans will be in place to help minimize the risk of vibrio illnesses due to the consumption of raw shellfish. The number of vibrio cases remain very small in comparison to other food-related illnesses like salmonella, but more people have been consuming oysters correlating to a rise in reported cases.

This increase has drawn more attention from the FDA and State regulators to mitigate the risk. If states have not closed harvesting areas for the summer season, then more aggressive vibrio plans will be in place for each state. These changes and updates could potentially affect oyster supply. Last year, Vibrio affected Northeast areas in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Unfortunately for many of us, these area closures and recalls affected Blue Point Oyster supply.

Vibrio is a naturally occurring bacteria in our oceans and thrives in warm temperatures. Low concentrations of the bacteria are pretty harmless, hence why oysters are unaffected by the bacteria in cool waters. However, at warmer temperatures, like warm waters or warmer than required storage temperatures, vibrio will bioaccumulate in the oyster to high enough levels to cause sickness when consumed.

Updates to 2014 Vibrio Control Plans

The scope of the updated control plans spans across the complete supply chain. Most of the new regulations apply to harvesters and dealers, but a few processes will involve retail. The Massachusetts plan heavily focuses on icing and temperature to control vibrio spikes. Harvesters and growers are required to ice their product within two hours of harvest. Dealers are also required to adequately ice the oysters in their refrigerated storage facilities. Data including harvest time, icing time, and temperatures are recorded and checked by local officials. Unannounced inspections of shellfish handling practices and logbooks will occur throughout the season. For more specifics on the plan, you can visit the Massachusetts Vibrio Control Plan site here.

If an illness does occur, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Marine Fisheries will investigate. Each respective state has included rules and thresholds of what would prompt an area closure, so please visit the respective state's website. For the latest details and updates on closures, the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference site is a great resource. The site includes an updated list of all closures and recalls in the US.

Let's minimize the risk together -- Do your part

Vibrio can contaminate oysters at any time up until consumption. That means even if the oysters were fine out of the water, fine at our facility, and fine upon arrival at the restaurant, the oysters can still be subject to vibrio contamination if someone mishandled it at the restaurant. Unfortunately, it's hard to pinpoint when an oyster may be contaminated, therefore, it's important that we all do our part as an industry to keep consumers safe. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Only accept the product when the temperature of shellstock is 45º F (7º C) or less.
  • Refrigerate the shellfish immediately upon receipt and maintain temperatures below 45º F (7º C). Store and hold shellfish at same cooled temperature.
  • Ensure product is properly iced to 45º F (7º C) during transport.
  • Keep shellstock tags on or with the original container until empty. All tags must be kept on file for 90 days.

Most importantly, please educate your customers, too. For retailers, that means making sure there is a consumer advisory that provides full disclosure on your menu. Oysters do not deserve a bad rap, so the more aware and prepared we are, the better. We created a one-page information sheet that you can use to educate others about the MA Vibrio Control Plan with the tips listed above. You can download it above or share this post instead.

Let's strive to make this season illness-free and allow as many people to enjoy oysters safely this year!

Why is there an East Coast oyster shortage?

As an oyster company, it's sad when we don't have oysters to sell. We don't like telling customers, "No, not today," or "I can only offer you one bag," but the reality is, this year's winter and spring East Coast oyster shortage has been more prevalent than years past. Everyone along the supply chain is feeling it -- the growers know it, we know it, our customers know it, and everyone is asking why. So what is causing the market's East Coast oyster shortage? What is different this year than years before?

There's always the weather

Every year, oyster supply tightens during mid-winter through early summer. When the waters get colder, the oysters slow their metabolism significantly because there is no food. Algae is least abundant in winter because cold water temperatures inhibit their reproduction and growth. Without food in the water, the oysters survive on their fat reserves to get through the winter.

Weather-related issues directly affect the oyster supply.

This year, weather played a huge role as the lead antagonist. The East Coast was barraged with snow, cold winds, rain, and even set some record lows in March, only a month away from spring! Weather-related issues directly affect the oyster supply. If there is ice, it can be difficult or dangerous to harvest (see our article on ice fishing); if there is strong wind, it is unsafe for fishermen to get out on the water; and if there is heavy rain, areas are subject to rain closures prohibiting harvests, which may last as long as 3-5 days.

frozen river.jpg

Cold water temperature is also an accomplice in this oyster melodrama. Algae thrives in warmer waters, and the late spring we are experiencing is delaying algae blooms that nourish the oysters to grow. In New England, this affects many farms because typically, growers decide to sell all their market ready product in the winter before the next batch of oysters reach market size. Low inventories in the spring lower labor costs and ensures a better yield by avoiding possible mortality on the farm. Since waters are not warming, growers are now out of last season's inventory and waiting on this season's oysters to grow.

Weather issues, however, is not new news. Yes, weather this year has been really bad (it's hard to ignore climate change), but we as an industry have been able to manage through tough weather in years past without setting off alarm bells across the market. What is different this year is added regional and market conditions that are also applying pressure to the market like a domino effect, further compounding the oyster shortage.

Gulf oysters are nonexistent right now

Just 4 years ago, the Gulf led the country in the production of oysters, accounting for 59% of the national total according to the EPA. Then, in the same year, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened and has been wreaking havoc on the oyster population since. Contrary to popular belief and media coverage of animals covered in oil, the oysters in the area are not dying because they are smothered in black residue. After the spill, floodgates in Louisiana were opened to prevent the oil from contaminating the estuaries and marshes. This was effective in keeping the oil at bay, but a ton of fresh water was released into the Gulf, affecting the salinity levels of the water. This fresh water is problematic, and it's causing oyster deaths and preventing recovery.

Ken Brown, a Louisiana State University biologist, said he and his colleagues haven’t seen any major effects from the oil on adult oyster mortality rates, but when fresh water dilutes salinity levels ‘below 10 parts per thousand, and especially if you get below 5 parts per thousand, then oysters have problems.’
— Nola.com, "Louisiana Seafood: In wake of BP spill and river diversions, oysters show strain"

In other parts of the Gulf, like Texas, public oyster season ended April 30th, and supply will be limited to private leases with historically low levels of production. An algae bloom found to cause toxins in shellfish forced area closures in March, and the three-year long drought is adding too little fresh water to dilute the high-salinity waters of the Gulf.

Supply needs to come from somewhere

So, the Gulf is out of oysters. Where does everyone turn to?

The north, of course! Colder waters mean less year-round closures; oyster farms are popping up left and right. The oysters may be slightly more premium, but hey, they're oysters, and they taste great!

Just like that, demand spiked overnight for oysters from the Chesapeake. This put pressure on the Mid-Atlantic oyster supply that caused more supply shortages. The oyster population in the Chesapeake is definitely recovering from implementing harvest regulations and numerous efforts to improve water quality, but like the Gulf, public oyster beds also closed March 30th in Maryland and April 30th in Virginia. The harsh winter and strong spring winds have limited Mid-Atlantic supply, and now, oyster production will need to rely on private leases.

What we are seeing at Pangea

Blue Point Oysters are a staple at Pangea Shellfish. Last fall, we saw an average of 30,000 Blue Point Oysters leave our shop each week. Since the oyster shortages in the south, we now sell an average of 80,000 Blue Points per week! The supply we're getting isn't even close to covering all our demand, but given the weather conditions and all the factors explained above, it's hard to come up with more oysters.

Prices are also at a record high. We have never charged as much as we have on Blue Points. A shake-up of a major producer in Connecticut caused prices to rise by putting more pressure on other producers in the state. We hate accepting price increases, too, but sometimes it's the difference between having product for our customers or no product at all.

Despite supply challenges, outlook is positive

Supply will steadily increase from now until fall... we will see the market flooded with market size oysters come September.

In our thirteen years of operation, this year was the first time we had a week without any Canadian oysters. Our inventory looked like shit. But the good news is, the Canadian oysters are now back, and it's a reminder that production will continue to improve as temperatures get warmer and spring growth happens. Supply will steadily increase from now until the fall, and because of the late spring, we will see the market flooded with market size oysters come September.

Demand is also at an all-time high as the oyster is experiencing a renaissance. We will continue to see demand pressures on supply during these mid-winter and spring months, but outside of these months, growing demand is great news for our industry. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we get through these tight months. And we promise you, oysters are coming. Yes, they are.

Special thanks to John Brock from Pappas Restaurants and Mike McGee from Chincoteague Shellfish for contributing to the research of this piece.

New PEI Oysters In-the-House: Daisy Bay and Irish Point Oysters!

We are adding two new PEI oysters to our selection! From the growers of Raspberry Point Oysters, we are happy to introduce Daisy Bay Oysters and Irish Point Oysters!

Daisy Bay Oysters

Daisy Bay Oysters from Prince Edward Island shucked on a half shell.

Daisy Bay Oysters from Prince Edward Island shucked on a half shell.

The Daisy Bay Oysters have nice sturdy and clean shells.

The Daisy Bay Oysters have nice sturdy and clean shells.

Weighing in at 3.25 inches, the Daisy Bay Oysters look and taste phenomenal. We could clearly tell that the oysters were premium, and after doing a shucking, rightly so. The shells were scrubbed clean of barnacles, and the dark brown ridges made the oysters visually stimulating, which makes them great for display. When shucked, the meats were clean, plump, and glistening. Almost near perfection.

When it comes to taste, these Daisy Bays are super clean, just like the waters of PEI. What I enjoyed most was its dynamic flavor -- an initial mild brininess, but finished with a sweet and pleasant ocean flavor. For comparison's sake, it was similar to a La Saint Simon in that the flavor changed as it moved across your palate. If you're looking for an impressive oyster, this should definitely be in your consideration set.

Irish Point Oysters

The Irish Point Oysters have bright green shells.

The Irish Point Oysters have bright green shells.

Meats are full of liquor and has a briny punch.

Meats are full of liquor and has a briny punch.

For more of a cocktail oyster, the Irish Points are a good option. Under 3 inches, these oysters size around 2.75 inches and are full of brine. What makes them unique is the bright green hue on their shells, which I'm guessing is how they got their names. I have never seen an oyster so green before. They literally looked like leaves -- shamrocks if you put three or four of them together. It was difficult to find words to describe their beauty. You will just have to hold one in your hand to see for yourself.

When it came to shucking, the shells were a tad bit thinner than we would have liked. Because we couldn't do a clean shuck, it mangled some of the meats. Despite that, the oyster definitely provided a briny punch with its liquor. It was clean and salty all the way through. Not one of my favorite oysters on taste, but highly rated for display.

Oysterology will be on the site soon, but until then, feel free to browse through the glamour shots. I think these oyster models are definitely lookers...

Pangea Shellfish Company at 2014 Seafood Expo NA

After a one year hiatus from Seafood Expo North America, we decided to come back in full swing and swagger. We were literally "drippin' swagoo" as Kanye West would say. So many people came by and was awestruck by how many oysters we had:

Seafood Expo NA Pangea Shellfish

Yes, all of the oysters displayed were a different variety from their neighbor! We got so many compliments for having the best display at the show. Attendees constantly asked if they could take a photo, and we couldn't have been more thrilled!

The highlights of being at the show each year include reconnecting with old friends, greeting our customers, matching names to faces, and building the shellfish community. The de Konings of Acadia Aqua Farms, growers of our premium Hollander & de Koning mussels, blessed us with their presence on the first day. They're fun people and one of our favorite purveyors we proudly represent!

Fiona de Koning of Acadia Aqua Farms visits the Pangea Shellfish Company booth at the 2014 Seafood Expo North America.

Fiona de Koning of Acadia Aqua Farms visits the Pangea Shellfish Company booth at the 2014 Seafood Expo North America.

It was also a pleasure to see Robert Rheault, Executive Director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, who goes way back with Ben during his Moonstone Oyster Farm days when Ben was only a college student.

Robert Rheault, Executive Director of ECSGA, says hello to the Pangea Team!

Robert Rheault, Executive Director of ECSGA, says hello to the Pangea Team!

The show is also an opportunity to make new friends and see cool new products. We were thrilled to meet the folks behind Daisy Bay Oysters (also the growers of the well-known Raspberry Point Oysters) and are proud to announce that starting next week, March 24th, we will be introducing Daisy Bay Oysters to our selection!

Lindsay Linkletter and James Power of Daisy Bay Oysters representing Prince Edward Island at the Seafood Expo NA.

Lindsay Linkletter and James Power of Daisy Bay Oysters representing Prince Edward Island at the Seafood Expo NA.

One of the reasons we love social media is because it's a great tool for making connections and building community. A huge shout out to Barren Island Oysters and Steve Vilnit (@SteveVilnit), Director of Fisheries Marketing of Maryland DNR, for engaging with us and promoting seafood and shellfish. What a fun group of guys!

Jay Fleming, Timothy Devine, Steve Vilnit, and John Kutner representing Maryland Seafood at Seafood Expo NA.

Jay Fleming, Timothy Devine, Steve Vilnit, and John Kutner representing Maryland Seafood at Seafood Expo NA.

The lineup of events at the expo also gave special consideration to the oyster. Besides talks on sustainability and a master class led by Patrick McMurray (@ShuckerPaddy), which featured Pangea's oysters, the bivalve got a lot of press during the annual oyster shucking competition! Paul Hagan, our farm manager, couldn't resist a photo opportunity with some of the world's best shuckers -- our friend, Daniel Notkin (@MtlOysterfest) of The Old Port Fishing Company, and John Bil (@keeponshucking).

Ben Lloyd, Paul Hagan, John Bil, and Daniel Notkin before the annual Seafood Expo NA Oyster Shucking Competition.

Ben Lloyd, Paul Hagan, John Bil, and Daniel Notkin before the annual Seafood Expo NA Oyster Shucking Competition.

A huge thank you to everyone who helped us make the Seafood Show a success! Until next year!

Always #eatmoreoysters,

The Pangea Shellfish Team

Pangea Shellfish Team

Announcing THE OYSTER GAMES 2014

Boston, are you ready for THE OYSTER GAMES?

Starting Monday, January 13, 2014 through Thursday, March 13, 2014, B&G Oysters and Pangea Shellfish Company will be hosting the 2014 Oyster Games! Each week, we will be posting a photo of an oyster on our Facebook page, and the first tribute to guess its name correctly will win half a dozen oysters on-the-house at B&G Oysters!

Think you're up for the challenge? Join the games by clicking here or the image below.

MAY THE OYSTERS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.

"The Oyster Games" is sponsored by B&amp;G Oysters and Pangea Shellfish Company and in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

"The Oyster Games" is sponsored by B&G Oysters and Pangea Shellfish Company and in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

Happy Holidays From Pangea Shellfish!

Pangea Shellfish Holiday E-Card

'Tis [five days] before Christmas, and in the back of the house
The wait staff is stirring, the bartender half-soused,
The patrons are perched and can't help but stare
At the beautiful Standish Shore oysters to share.

- Lori Budlong

To our customers, vendors, supporters, and fans -- thanks for a great year! We wouldn't be here without you!

From our Pangea family to yours, happy holidays and have a wonderful and joyous holiday season!