Winter 2015 disrupting Northeast shellfish supply

This year's winter weather has really taken a toll on shellfish supply. "I don't remember it being this bad since the 80s," Norm recalls. Of the many farms we reached out to, Norm Bloom and Son in Norwalk, CT was one of the handful that was still able to get out and harvest shellfish. Even as a larger shellfish producer, Norm and team has found it difficult to operate in this weather, too.

The eastern side of Duxbury Bay, MA where some of our standish shore oysters are harvested. Taken on Feb. 16, 2015.

The eastern side of Duxbury Bay, MA where some of our standish shore oysters are harvested. Taken on Feb. 16, 2015.

Ice and frigid temperatures have been the main culprits for this winter's shellfish shortage. Many of our growers cannot access their farms because the ice is so thick. Some areas have called in the Coast Guard and icebreaker boats for help. Mussel and clam supplies have been hit especially hard. Major mussel producing areas like Prince Edward Island and Maine have been completely frozen over, and it is almost impossible for New England clam diggers to reach the ocean bottom.

Floating ice is also very dangerous. Even when moving slowly, 6-inch-thick ice can easily puncture a hole into a boat with a wooden or fiberglass hull. Unless you have a boat with a steel hull, it is pretty risky to sail out when the ice is broken up.

Aside from ice, there are regulations in many towns that do not allow shellfishing when the air temperature is 28º F or below. Law or not, shellfishing in these temperatures is not ideal because the shellfish will literally freeze to death when it makes contact with the air once out of the water.

So where's the supply in the Mid-Atlantic then? Isn't it warmer there?

Some parts of the bay have been frozen for the whole month of February. People don’t realize the hardship that a hard winter puts on us.
— Robert T. Brown, President of the Maryland Watermen's Association

The Chesapeake Bay has brackish water -- water that is saltier than freshwater, but not as salty as seawater. Salty seawater is more dense, so it tends to sink to the bottom where it's warmer. The surface of the Chesapeake's brackish water, however, has completely iced up after enduring numerous inches of snow and long periods of subzero temperatures. Like New England, there has been very little oyster and clam production. The Baltimore Sun does a great job covering the Chesapeake in-depth and also provides an aerial view of the bay if you would like to learn more.

What should we expect for supply in the next few months?

Good news is temperatures are going to start warming up in the next few days (and weeks, we hope), which will provide a window for the ice to thaw and allow some growers to access their farms. Bad news is winter kill can be a common problem. Possible reasons for shellfish mortality include being frozen by the ice, smothered by vegetation or silt, or being simply too weak to last through winter hibernation.

With those considerations in mind, we do expect shellfish supply to improve, however, oyster varieties will continue to be limited through late summer. Oyster supply will depend on the rate of winter kill and the volume of market product remaining from this past fall.

We ask for your patience, understanding, and flexibility as we weather through this difficult time of year. Please educate your colleagues and customers now as supply may become more limited. And of course, please thank your local fishermen, oystermen, and seafood purveyors because they are working hard for you, especially during this wintry weather.

Check out the winter content from our growers below.

Stay warm out there!

Our 2015 Outlook For Oysters

The oyster experienced a renaissance in 2014. So what's in store for 2015?

As we look back on 2014, the oyster had a great year. Oysters received so much press and attention that it even got a shout out on the home page of the New York Times, accompanied with a video appropriately titled "Oysters Make a Comeback." Entering 2015, there is no doubt that this oyster craze will continue. Numerous oyster bars are slated for 2015 openings and more consumers are having oysters for the first time. They say the best way to predict the future is to look at the past, so join us as we recap the significant oyster trends in 2014 and what it means for 2015.


1. The Emergence of Oyster Farms and Branding

There are many reasons the oyster market is booming, but one of the primary reasons is the growth of oyster farms and brands along the East Coast. According to Bob from East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, production has doubled over the last five years, and he now estimates there are over 400 niche oyster brands on the East Coast alone. "It's like wine," Bob says. "There are a ton of brands and choices, and each one is unique."

Like terroir, oysters have their merroir, and this is a huge draw for chefs. The farm-to-table movement has created an excitement around understanding where and how ingredients are sourced, and this is no exception for oysters. Private labeling and exclusive distribution of brands have allowed chefs, restaurants, and distributors to tell the oyster story that is unique to them. And consumers love it, so much so that it has sparked a market for oyster farm tourism and even an app to geolocate specific oysters.


Expect to see more farms and brands appear on the market, but also a shift towards vertical integration through exclusive distribution or private labeling as players strive to differentiate themselves and capture greater market share from loyal consumers. There are oyster farms that are already vertically integrated where the farm directly supplies its own branded restaurants (e.g. Island Creek Oysters and Matunuck Oysters) and farms who grow the same oyster with multiple names for distributors or restaurants to claim exclusive distribution rights. More farms are now marketing directly to consumers to build brand loyalty and generate demand whether by shipping product direct-to-consumer or offering consumer experiences such as tours.

2. Rise In Industry Profits Draws Shady Business

As with any industry, the potential for sales and profits will draw those looking for easy money to make bad decisions. In 2014, there were some high profile cases of oyster fraud, theft, and poaching that drew a decent amount of attention from the press and the respective local communities.


Seafood fraud has been a common industry problem that extends beyond oysters. However, as more consumers and restaurants become more engaged with their food and sourcing, traceability will become a higher priority. The Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference is working on a more robust traceability plan to be released in the near future. The Vibrio regulations passed this year required growers and distributors to log harvest and transactional details, which provided more traceability, but may have been administratively cumbersome.

TIP As always, work with a reliable vendor and read the tag for yourself. If your Blue Points are being harvested out of Virginia, you are probably not buying Blue Points. This is basic stuff, but be your own detective.


3. Oyster Supply Highly Dependent On Weather

In 2014, all of us felt the winter and spring oyster shortage in some way. The brutal winter did a number on many areas and coupled with other industry factors like the Gulf oyster shortage, it threw the oyster industry into a frenzy.


Unfortunately, most of the factors that plagued the 2014 shortage have not changed. Gulf oysters are not recovering, so expect the Gulf to supplement from the Chesapeake. New England growers continue to grow more oysters each season, but demand continues to outpace supply, therefore farms may sell out again.

The wild card determining supply will be the weather. Weather conditions ranging from wind to ice can prevent oystermen from harvesting farmed and wild product. When farmed oysters are sold out, wild fisheries sustain the market until farmed oysters are back in business. If weather is bad, expect supply to be as tight as 2014.

TIP Teach and educate your customers to be flexible. Yes, I know it's hard, and they want it on their menu all month long, but weather is unpredictable. Help them understand (or refer them to our blog) about what's going on and offer multiple/back up options. Set expectations with your customers now before supply issues come up.

4. More Stringent Vibrio Regulations

Overall, the number of reported Vibrio illnesses across the Northeast at this time is low compared to recent years. Scientists suspect one reason may be that water temperatures were significantly lower than normal early in the summer, which was unusually temperate.
— Connecticut Department of Agriculture

It's obvious that Vibrio risk increases when oyster consumption increases -- more people have the potential to be exposed to the bacteria. This past summer, we saw the new Vibrio control plans in place, which regulated the window of time oystermen could harvest before icing. The short time windows limited the oystermen's catch, and therefore affected available supply. Reported Vibrio illnesses in the Northeast were "low compared to recent years," but could be due to it being cooler than usual in the early summer. Shellfish closures included Martha's Vineyard, MA and Huntington, NY. No confirmed cases were tied to Connecticut, which had a huge recall of Blue Points in 2013.


The regulators' goal is to decrease number of reported illnesses, and the 2014 results would indicate that something is working, so expect strict Vibrio regulations to continue. With that said, Blue Point supply and other affected oysters may be limited again during the summer, but hopefully, oystermen are better prepared this coming year, so supply should be at least the same or better than 2014.

So that about wraps up 2014. It's been a heck of a year, and we can't wait for 2015 and all the challenges that await. Cheers to our customers, vendors, and fans for making 2014 great, but 2015 is going to be even better, so stick around! As always, let us know how we can help, and of course #eatmoreoysters.


Special thanks to Bob Rheault of East Coast Shellfish Growers Association for contributing.

Bay scallops available for preorder! Plus what you should know about them...

bay scallops pangea shellfish

***No time to read the whole thing? No problem, scroll to the bottom for a summary of the key points.***

It's November... And for those of us in the Massachusetts shellfish industry, that means the start of bay scallop season! Revered as the gems of the ocean, bay scallops are sweet, succulent scallops also known for their beautiful shells. Since they're a seasonal item, now is the time to be focusing on these beauties. Today, we're going to share all our bay scallop knowledge here, and after reading this, you'll be an instant bay scallop guru.

What are bay scallops and where are they from?

There are two types of bay scallops in eastern North America: the northern bay scallop (Argopecten irradians irradians), found along the coasts of Massachusetts through Long Island, New York; and the southern bay scallop (Argopecten irradians concentricus), found in New Jersey through North Carolina. Most bay scallop fisheries are now out of Massachusetts, namely Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, due to the larger habitats of eelgrass that support scallop spawning and provide protection from predators.


  • Bay scallops live for 18-30 months -- there are only two generations alive at any time.
  • They reach full size by the next fall. An adult northern scallop averages 2.4" in length, 2.5" in width, and weighs in around 11 grams.
  • An adult scallop is defined by its "growth line," a thickened edge of shell that forms when the scallop starts to grow again during the spring. Scallops stop growing during the winter.
  • Like other bivalves, bay scallops spawn in warmer months. Females can release a few million eggs in one season.
  • Bay scallops ARE NOT the same species as sea scallops. They are related and belong in the same shellfish family, but differ in size, habitat, and life years.

How are they harvested?


Most bay scallops on the market are wild. We have seen some cultivated product, but their numbers are no match for the wild fisheries that land hundreds of pounds a day. The primary method of harvesting is dragging by scallop dredge. There are specific regulations on dredges, i.e. size and weight, because dragging can disturb or destroy eelgrass and ocean bottom habitats, which help sustain scallop populations. Other fishing methods include raking or dip-netting in shallower waters.


Scalloping in Massachusetts is heavily regulated, but with good cause. These regulations were developed to help fishermen earn a living wage by preventing overfishing and low market prices. Many of these rules still apply today and are the main reasons why bay scallops are a seasonal product.

  • In Massachusetts, commercial bay scallop season is open October 1 through March 31. Additionally, every town has its own season and regulations including harvest limits and times. Below are the regulations for two of the largest production areas:
    • Martha's Vineyard
      • Season open (depending on town): Oct. 27 / Nov. 3 / Dec. 1 - Mar. 31
      • Harvest limit: 3 level bushels per license per day (up to 2 licensees per boat)
      • Monday - Friday, 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. If bad weather, can harvest on the following Saturday. Never on Sunday.
    • Nantucket
      • Season open: Nov. 1 - Mar. 31
      • Harvest limit: 5 level bushels per license per day (up to 2 licensees per boat)
      • Monday - Friday, 6:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. If Christmas is on a weekday, can harvest on the Saturday of that week.
  • Supply of bay scallops is highly weather dependent. Fishermen cannot and sometimes are not allowed to harvest when there is bad weather, including strong winds, rain, and even cold temperatures. If the air is too cold, the scallops die of frostbite once out of water.

how to buy quality bay scallops

Bay scallops don't stay alive for long in-shell (one to two days max out of water), so most fishermen shuck them for their meats the day of harvest to keep the meats fresh. For buyers, it may mean a higher price, but it also means more meat per pound. Who wants to be paying for shells?

When checking for quality, Ben says, "Bay scallops should be almost translucent and glossy on the outside, not chalky or yellowing. They should be clean, no grit, and should smell sweet. The best way to tell is just to taste them raw. It's a sure way to know." When it relates to size, there should be about 50-70 pieces per pound. Also ask how they were processed and check that there's not a lot of liquid. Wet vs. dry processing can make a huge difference in weight -- wet bay scallops are dipped in a phosphate solution to keep them fresh, but makes them absorb more liquid.

how to cook

There are many ways to prepare bay scallops! But the best ways are to keep them simple because they already have so much flavor and tenderness. Eating them raw in ceviches, crudo, or sushi, giving them a quick pan sear, grill or roast, these are all popular preparation methods. For recipe ideas, see our summary below.

So in summary...

  1. Northern bay scallops are most common -- you will find the greatest supply sourced from Massachusetts, especially Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Production is more limited from the Cape due to environmental impacts like brown tides. All bay scallops from MA, regardless of area, are the SAME species. They are not, however, the same as sea scallops.
  2. BAY SCALLOPS ARE SEASONAL AND WEATHER DEPENDENT -- harvest season in most towns open November 3 or later through March 31. Fishermen are limited with their catch, can only harvest Monday through Friday, and can be deterred by weather. Therefore, DO NOT expect consistent supply.
  3. Check quality and size of bay scallops by
    • Smelling and tasting them raw
    • Looking for translucent, shiny gloss
    • Very little liquid
    • Average 50-70 pieces / lb
  4. Click on the links below for a few recipe ideas for bay scallops
  5. And in case you're ever on Jeopardy, here's a fun fact -- Scallops can swim up to a distance of 10 feet in a single swim. They swim in a zig-zag line by squirting water through their "ears" initiated by opening and closing their valves. When they reach the water surface, they sink to the bottom in a new location with their shells closed.

Call us to preorder your bay scallops this week to get the first catch of the season! Fingers crossed for good weather and supply. #eatmoreshellfish.

Mackenzie Jr, C.L., (2008). The Bay Scallop, Argopecten irradians, Massachusetts Through North Carolina: Its Biology and the History of Its Habitats and Fisheries. Marine Fisheries Review, Vol. 70, No. 3-4, 2008.

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.

The relationship between the oyster growing cycle and supply

Standish Shore Oyster Seed

As water temperatures finally warm up, food in the water is slowly growing more abundant for our baby oysters! Around May and June, growers in New England receive their new seed to put in their oyster nursery to grow for next season's oysters.

Witnessing the beginning stages of our oysters inspired me to think about the schedule on an oyster farm. I realized as Standish oyster growers, it's an important topic for us to share with all oyster handlers and explain why suppliers should care.

The Oyster Life Cycle 101

Oysters are hermaphroditic bivalves that spawn when temperatures fluctuate drastically. In the wild, this typically happens during the summer. Depending on the oyster's environment or life stage, the oyster can be male or female, but never both at the same time. Once the oysters spawn, eggs and sperm are released into the water to be fertilized. Adult females can release as many as 5 to 8 million eggs at one time!

A great summary of the oyster life cycle. Farmed oysters spend most of their pre-seed lives in hatcheries and then move to farms for growout.

A great summary of the oyster life cycle. Farmed oysters spend most of their pre-seed lives in hatcheries and then move to farms for growout.

Once the eggs are fertilized in the water, the developing larvae float around until they are ready to attach to a resting spot. These young oysters, also known as spat, will now need ample food (and time) to develop their hard shells for protection as they grow in size.

The Oyster Life Cycle, Hatchery Edition

In many areas including Duxbury Bay, water temperatures do not fluctuate enough for oysters to spawn. If they do, there is not enough spat to collect to seed a farm. So instead of collecting wild spat, some oyster farms buy spat that has been spawned and fertilized in a hatchery. Oysters on our farm arrive when the spat is about 2mm in size.

The oyster life cycle very much dictates the growing schedule on a farm. It takes 18 to 24 months for oysters to become adults or grow to market size, approximately 3 inches. Since growers only have a finite amount of land, they also only have a finite amount of oysters they can grow on their farm. Some of that area has to be devoted to oysters that are maturing to market size. Very much like agricultural farming, growers have to plan their farming schedule to allot enough time for growout.

Understanding the Growing Cycle on the Farm

Lately, oyster supply has been really tight and in New England, much of it is due to the growing cycle. Most New England growers receive their oyster spat in late April or May when the waters are warmer and contain more food. Starting baby oysters in the winter would annihilate them. As mentioned above, it takes at least 18 months to grow an oyster to 3 inches, so if you count 18 months from April, the oysters will be ready the next October as summarized below.

Many growers are close or already out of market size oysters from the 2012 crop. Those oysters were sold last fall. Now, growers are waiting on oysters to sell from the 2013 crop, and unfortunately, the late spring this year gave these oysters a slow start. Farms also sold many of their petites in the winter from the same 2013 crop for some extra sales, so we're seeing very limited number of those as well. Summer tends to be tight months for New England oysters because market size oysters are sold out, so the oysters left are those racing to reach 3 inches or simply little spat barely mature.

So, what about wild oyster supply?

As farmed supply declines, there is some pressure on wild supplies. Wild oyster growing cycles typically follow the oyster life cycle and should technically have consistent numbers. Unfortunately, it's hard for people to leave wild oysters undisturbed. It's tempting to harvest anything market size because of the sales potential, and with climbing demand, oyster beds are being picked over in areas like Wellfleet.

Most of the pressures on wild supply, though, are due to regulations. Regulations obviously limit harvest amounts and implement sizing restrictions, but more recently, the development of vibrio regulations have had even greater impacts. As an example, the new vibrio regulations from Connecticut this summer have greatly limited the ability for fishermen to harvest Blue Point Oysters. The lack of New England oysters are definitely more noticeable now without the support of wild supplies.

Standish Shore Farm Update

graded seed.JPG

So, as we wait for our oysters to grow, we're getting the farm ready for our new seedlings that arrived in May. Last week, we finished our first grading of 2 million seed from our upweller nursery, and soon, they will get ready to grow in their aqua purses out on the tide.

We have new help on the farm and a lot to do. Even though we can't sell these oysters yet, they will be 3 inches by next fall before you even know it. We're looking forward to the warm weather and the wonderful summer winds in Duxbury Bay. A new crop for a new season -- to 2015 and beyond!

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.’
—, "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.