Everybody wins, even the oysters!
February 23, 2021 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Once destined for raw bars, 5 million oysters are being rerouted to coastal restoration efforts.

At the end of its first phase, begun last October and slated to wrap up later this year, Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration will have spent $2 million on 5 million oysters from 100 oyster farms in New Jersey, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Washington state. The purpose, from SOAR’s perspective, is to bulk up 20 reef restoration projects and hopefully push some of them into “exponential growth phase,” where they rapidly create habitat for more oysters and other marine species, clean the water, and mitigate coastal flooding. But for the oystermen, SOAR is also helping salvage an unusually rotten year for their industry.
posted by yeahlikethat (34 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's really interesting. Hopefully the large oysters being used to shore up the reefs will act like the researchers think they might.
posted by mollweide at 4:34 PM on February 23 [9 favorites]


I miss oysters. I'm glad that someone has done this sort of work to make up for some of the downturn. (I can house 3-4 buckets of oysters on my own no problem)
posted by drewbage1847 at 4:37 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]


We've got a lot of spare Class B shellfish here in the UK, for some reason. You want some, I'm sure we can oblige!
posted by pipeski at 4:51 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


This makes me oddly happy

As a kid I loved nature programs where the most simple creatures - krill, mayflies, crustaceans - go about their business in uncountable numbers

Each one perfectly made
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:56 PM on February 23 [14 favorites]


Neat, thanks for posting this. I do love when an article has interesting links sprinkled throughout. Had no idea that ham and oyster dinners were a thing!
posted by a feather in amber at 5:01 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


If this works it will be incredibly cheap to keep doing it.
posted by mhoye at 5:03 PM on February 23


A good news post! This makes me happy. I'm glad it's a conservation effort that is conserving so many different things at once, and doing it successfully!
posted by hippybear at 5:04 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Seems great, hope it works. I've never been interested in trying a "snot on a rock" that "tastes like pneumonia", so I feel better about myself, especially after the meat post earlier...
posted by Windopaene at 5:35 PM on February 23


Some historical background and notes on reef design from 99% Invisible.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 5:56 PM on February 23


The rock snots are better fried, on top of chicken salad. Or even better being little heroes of coastal restoration!
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:40 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


Sarah Taber did a really cool thread last December on electrified reefs: wire infrastructure plus electricity plus seawater builds some amazing reefs quickly.
posted by thecaddy at 6:49 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Great article. But it's making me miss eating oysters with friends at Grand Central Oyster Bar, and in New Orleans.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 6:51 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


I like oysters but I think I can do without after I learned about how they and other filter-feeding bivalves are basically evolved to perfection to eat feces and fecal bacterial floats and be able to pass on pathogens like hepatitis, and that's even before we get to the part about them being useful for clean shorelines and oceans precisely because they can eat poop of many kinds.

I don't think I'll eat them or mussels ever again, at least not until I get my hep vaccines.

Sometimes I see big beards of mussels in local waters and I just want to harvest them and cook them right there on the beach and feast like a fat otter because they're delicious and then I see the "no shellfish harvesting!" signs and I get sad and totally over it.
posted by loquacious at 7:03 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


metafilter: basically evolved to perfection to eat feces and fecal bacterial floats
posted by lalochezia at 7:10 PM on February 23 [11 favorites]


Sitting here In Rhode Island, I could *really* go for a cold beer and maybe five raw oysters, sitting by the water in the sun, right now...
posted by wenestvedt at 7:12 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


I don't think I'll eat them or mussels ever again, at least not until I get my hep vaccines.

I love oysters, and am fully vaccinated. Huzzah!
posted by mr_roboto at 7:19 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


True story: In 2014 I was working at a high end restraunt in Edgartown and I got this table of six on vacation from outside Philly. They were traveling all around New England, had been in Boston the night before, and had Katama oysters somewhere. "Do you have the Kahtahmah oysters? WE WANT THOSE." they demanded.

"Oh we got those, and it's pronounced Katayma. I'll send a dozen right over" I said and went about my job.

12 to 18 minutes later I check on the table and I ask "how are the oysters?"

And they are all " HOLY SHIT DUDE we thought they were awesome last night in Boston but damn these are just that much fresher and tastier and better OMG."

I'll have to take their word for it, I only eat them fried and rarely even then. But I love that there are plenty of oyster farms here, I don't remember there being any back in the late 70's and 80's. And my oldest friend on earth is the shellfish constable one town over, so that is also groovy.

Now scallops, those I will eat every day for the rest of my life if I could.
posted by vrakatar at 7:30 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


fecal bacterial floats

Ahh, no, I'm driving. Just Coke for me.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:26 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


There was an article in the Washington Post way back in April about how oyster farms need people at home to start buying oysters. We ordered a kit with knives and gloves and volunteered as tributes. It still takes me an embarrassing amount of time to shuck a couple dozen but we’re doing what we can. Tumbled oysters are much easier to shuck, but the ones we like best overall aren’t tumbled and we haven’t quite ordered enough for me to master it.

On the one hand I’m sad we can’t eat all those oysters they’re using to restore all those bays, but on the other hand we’ve been to Virginia’s Northern Neck and seen the water quality in person, and I’m 100% on board with paying oyster farms for this restoration work. This will be really cool even if it's only partly successful.
posted by fedward at 8:58 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


fedward, my dad, a big oyster connoisseur, often opens them in the microwave. If you get it right, they pop open just a bit as they die, and the oyster itself is only slightly warmed up not cooked. Makes popping the shell open much easier, though you still need an oyster knife. I also hear that freezing and defrosting will do the trick, though I have not personally witnessed that.
posted by tavella at 9:40 PM on February 23


I like oysters but I think I can do without after I learned about how they and other filter-feeding bivalves are basically evolved to perfection to eat feces and fecal bacterial floats
posted by loquacious


On the plus side... since they're at the very bottom of the food chain, they will have the lowest amount of bioaccumulation of mercury and other heavy meals, compared to fish like tuna.
posted by xdvesper at 10:07 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


Yes, the ecological benefits would be terrific, but a self-sustaining reef could also mean that one day, he and other oystermen might be able to harvest it.

Sitting here In Rhode Island, I could *really* go for a cold beer and maybe five raw oysters, sitting by the water in the sun, right now...

Gem of the ocean - "A dozen ocean-cleaners and a pint of Guinness, please."[1]
As far as the health of marine ecosystems go, perhaps no single pollutant does more harm than nitrogen. It occurs naturally in human and animal waste. Fossil-fuel combustion produces nitrogen oxides, which rise into the atmosphere and come down in rainfall as nitric acid. And fertilisers often contain large quantities of nitrogen, which seeps into the groundwater and is washed into the bay. In the water, nitrogen serves as a major nutrient for microscopic organisms called phytoplankton. Individually, they are invisible to the naked eye, but when present in large quantities they cause massive blooms, clouding the water reddish, green, yellow or brown and preventing sunlight from filtering through the water. Also, as these phytoplankton die, they, like all organic matter, are eaten by bacteria, which, also like all organic matter, breathe, using up valuable oxygen in the water. Nitrogen thus harms aquatic life in two ways: by allowing phytoplankton to live, it keeps sunlight from reaching underwater plants and grasses, which removes an important source of food and habitat for numerous marine species. And the bacteria that feed on dying phytoplankton use oxygen, leaving less for fish and crabs.

Fortunately, few species filter nitrogen from the water as effectively as oysters—as Bill Goldsboro, a senior scientist with an environmental advocacy group called the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, explains, “The oyster is pretty particular about what it eats, but it's not particular about what it filters.” A single oyster can filter about 50 gallons of water per day. A few decades ago, the Chesapeake had enough oysters to filter the entire bay every week: that same task would take its existing population a full year. As an oyster eats plankton, it draws in everything else around it, including nitrogen; what it does not eat it expels into the water as solid pellets of waste, which eventually decompose and bubble up into the atmosphere as nitrogen... it is not so much that oysters live in clean water, as that water with an abundance of oysters in it will be clean. In other words, dirty water doesn't drive away the bivalves; rather a lack of bivalves invites the filth.

Don Meritt, a bluff, burly, deeply-tanned PhD waterman who runs the hatchery (and whom everyone—university president and beaker-scrubber alike—calls Mutt) explains that this is a gross oversimplification, but it contains a grain of truth. “Oysters aren't the magic bullet, but they're an important bullet,” he says. Dr Meritt has been studying oysters for the university since 1972. His kingdom is a warren of green-roofed institutional buildings hulking alongside a winding two-lane road, near enough to the Choptank to use its water, which flows in through underground pipes. Inside, oysters spawn in black plastic tubs; algae in every shade of drab seethe and multiply in glass jugs; and cheery young students hunch over notebooks. The future of the bay—and more than just the bay, if the experiments work—may depend on what happens here, for oysters are a keystone species: if they thrive, others will too.

Oysters filter nitrogen, and their beds offer the same multispecies home as hard coral in the tropics. Oysters have relatively few natural predators: mainly starfish, which attach themselves to the shell with multitudinous teeth and patiently chew through, and the oyster drill, a species of carnivorous snail that attaches itself to a mollusc shell with a multi-toothed organ and inserts its proboscis, which releases enzymes that digest the creature in its home, making it easy to hoover up. Watermen once tried to defeat starfish by cutting each one they dragged up in half; unfortunately, since they regenerate, this doubled the starfish population. Even a few predators, however, attract predators of their own. And as the oysters remove both plankton and nitrogen from the water, it grows clearer, allowing eelgrass and other species of marine plants to return, which provide comfortable shelter for crabs, scallops and other aquatic life.

In the hatchery, oysters grow from larvae to spat; a group called the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) then carries the spat out to the Chesapeake or one of its tributaries and places them in an oyster bed. In 2008 the ORP planted over 450m hatchery-raised oysters. Not all will live, of course, but many do: over 200m through the ORP's efforts alone, since 2007, totalling around 1,100 acres of new oyster reefs (historically Maryland held about 200,000 acres of oyster reefs; today it has about 36,000). Half of the oysters have been seeded in sanctuaries and cannot be harvested; the other half are in managed-reserve beds, which watermen tend and can harvest from once they reach marketable size. Only a small portion of available oysters will be harvested, whether publicly or privately; most will be left in situ for the environmental benefits they provide.

And Maryland will likely turn away from public fisheries and toward private ownership of beds—after all, people tend to take better care of what they own. Fortunately, farmed oysters, unlike other seafood, suffer no decline in taste. They grow, breed, eat and filter just as they do wild. Indeed, oyster farming is one of the few situations in which both economics and the environment win: any body of water that can support a vibrant oyster industry will almost certainly be cleaner and more vital than one that cannot. Farmed salmon may turn flabby, bland and, without the addition of dye to its diet, dully grey, but eating an oyster will always be, as Léon-Paul Fargue, a Symbolist poet, said, “like kissing the sea on the lips”.
chart - "Marine creatures in estuaries and coastal seas % decline (from presumed pristine state)"[2]

also btw...
Almost a Quarter of All Freshwater Fish Species Are in Peril, Thanks to Humans - "Global analysis finds that development, overfishing, and pollution have made rivers dramatically different habitats than they were 200 years ago."
posted by kliuless at 2:24 AM on February 24 [10 favorites]


Watermen once tried to defeat starfish by cutting each one they dragged up in half; unfortunately, since they regenerate, this doubled the starfish population.

I love this. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:29 AM on February 24 [10 favorites]


I love this. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

"Cut off one head and two will take their place," -- Hydra
posted by mikelieman at 7:26 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


FWIW the difficulty in shucking oysters that haven't been tumbled is that the top shell will be very thin and brittle. The oysters we've most enjoyed are so fresh that I don't want to do anything to them other than shuck them and eat them as quickly as possible. I don't have any trouble at this point finding the hinge and getting a knife in, but the top shells on these in particular will often just crack, shatter, and spray little bits of shell all over our kitchen rather than open up easily. Tumbled Chincoteague oysters like Rappahannock Oyster Co. Olde Salt Oysters™ are delicious in their own right (mmmm, briny) and they pop open in seconds, but they don't have the same clean, fresh taste.
posted by fedward at 8:10 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Oyster farms occupy a weird niche of being both capitalist and good for the environment. Even if you're anticapitalist and can't imagine eating oysters, many oyster farms are small businesses whose work has real environmental benefits. If you enjoy oysters and you're in a (geographic) position to support an oyster farm by ordering directly from them, please do help support the industry. Oyster farms were hard hit when the restaurants that were their primary customers closed because of the pandemic. We're lucky in that there are multiple oyster farms in VA which have local pickup arrangements in DC, and I know that's not going to be true for large parts of the country, but many oyster farms will ship nationwide.
posted by fedward at 8:31 AM on February 24 [5 favorites]


Watermen once tried to defeat starfish by cutting each one they dragged up in half; unfortunately, since they regenerate, this doubled the starfish population.

I love this. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:29 AM on February 24 [5 favorites +] [!]


I love this. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

"Cut off one head and two will take their place," -- Hydra
posted by mikelieman at 10:26 AM on February 24 [2 favorites +] [!]


"You cannot kill me in a way that matters."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:55 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


shellfish constable

Another job my guidance counselor never told me about
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:24 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


The Galveston Bay Foundation is doing something similar but after the oysters meet their untimely demise. They are recycling the shells one someone has had their delicious dozen (or 12) to also rebuild oyster beds. Helps with landfill and helps with habitat. Win-Win!
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 4:49 PM on February 24


The stackable shell bricks are great. It is so rare to be able to point to something that is cheap, easy, effective, and with so many benefits direct and indirect. And with currently only 36K acres of oyster beds down from 200K there is lots of room for implementation to just rehabilitate what was wrecked.
posted by Mitheral at 5:21 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


We've been ordering oysters from Current Catch every other month since the pandemic started; thanks for the local links fedward!
posted by aspersioncast at 9:04 PM on February 24


Local companies in Puget Sound like Hama Hama are definitely doing a lot more direct shellfish shipments during the pandemic, and I am happy to do my own small part to consume several dozen of their oysters whenever I can find a reasonable excuse.
posted by cnidaria at 10:49 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Related: the last two episodes of How To Save a Planet (podcast) have been about kelp farming, which is similarly good for small business and the environment and really only lacks a proper US market.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:24 PM on February 25


"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--


And why the sea is...rising fast? no, "boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

Here's to happy oysters.
posted by TreeRooster at 8:47 AM on February 26


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