East Coast Oysters: Inshore Flavor Gems

The Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica)

Also called Wellfleet Oysters, Atlantic Oysters, Virginia Oysters, or American Oysters are all a species of true Oysters native to the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico. Pictured above the Eastern Oyster is found in estuaries and coastal rivers all over the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America. While very good to eat the Oyster is also a major component of coastal ecology. By filtering approximately 2.5 gallons of water per hour while feeding on microscopic algae known as phytoplankton the Oyster helps to improve water quality and clarity.

Tidal Zone Oyster Reefs

Along the east coast of the United States (US) Oysters are commonly found in the inter tidal zones which is the area between high and low tide and form Oyster reefs also known as Oyster Rakes. Oyster reefs also help stabilize the shoreline from erosion. During the early 1900s the Eastern Oyster was an important meat source for the canning industry. This led to large amounts of Oyster shells that needed to be disposed of and were converted to building, railroad, or road material. This led to a downward spiral of Oyster populations due to the fact that the best place for Oysters larvae to settle is an Oysters shell. Not only were the Oysters being harvested the shells were also being removed from the habitat. This also led to many Oyster reefs being decimated.

What are the best months to eat Oysters?

Old school sea lore specifies the best time to eat Oysters is during months that contain an “R” or specifically the cooler months of September through April and to avoid eating oysters in months that do not contain an “R” or specifically the hotter months of May through August.

Numbers of marine bacteria, like Vibrio, are higher in coastal waters during warm weather months, and the bacteria may still be present during cold weather months. However, a combined source of this myth is the fact that refrigeration was not present in the olden days. Therefore, it was unwise to eat shellfish during hot weather. Even today great caution should be taken to keep the shellfish properly stored until consumption.

How long does it take Oysters to grow?

The coastal waters are filled with baby Oysters known as Spat. These Spat need a place to settle and the more Oyster reefs there are then the better our chances are for a thriving Oysters fishery. Oysters begin growing on the Oyster shell reefs and mature after the first year of settling. During following years, new generations of Oysters also settle and the reef begins to grow naturally. Oyster reefs provide outstanding places to fish for inshore species.

Generating Enhanced Oyster Reefs in Georgia’s Inshore Areas (G.E.O.R.G.I.A.)

The University of Georgia Marine Extension Service (MAREX) in cooperation with Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GaDNR) Oyster shells are collected at drop off points or Oyster shell recycling locations and then processed to be returned to the coastal rivers every spring in Oyster shell bagging events.

Are you planning a private oyster roast? Do you own a seafood restaurant that serves oysters? Donate your shell to the G.E.O.R.G.I.A. program. Call MAREX and staff will organize a shell collection. Alternatively, you may take the shell yourself and drop it off at one of the conveniently located recycling centers in Savannah, Brunswick and Jekyll Island.


Living Shorelines Made of Oysters

Living shorelines are a method to protect shorelines from erosion. Traditional shoreline protection uses seawalls and bulkheads that “harden” the shore and cause a break between the marsh and upland. These structures protect the land for a time but must be maintained and replaced over time.
Living shorelines mimic nature to stabilize marsh banks by using native plants and Oyster shells. Shorelines are constantly changing: a living shoreline works with the natural environment to stabilize the shoreline and allows the marsh and upland to remain connected. Currently, MAREX, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Sapelo Island Natural Esturine Research Reserve (SINEER), and Little St. Simons Island are working together to study living shorelines as an alternative way to protect property and provide habitat for marine life and wildlife.


Tasting Oysters: Gems of the Sea

East Coast oysters range from the Gulf of Mexico to the upper reaches of Canada’s Maritimes. Typically virginicas grown in southern waters are softer in flesh, larger in size, and milder in salinity. They tend to have a buttery mouth feel and subtle sweetness. Virginicas found in more northern waters tend to have a crispy texture, higher salinity, and are usually full of complex mineral flavors. Many of the virginicas found north of Massachusetts tend to have a bright lemon burst and a vegetable finish reminiscent of chewing on celery.


Oysters are Essential Fish Habitat

Oyster reefs are considered essential fish habitat. Essential fish habitat is defined as, “waters and substrate necessary to fish for: spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.” Fish like Sheepshead, Speckled Trout, Flounder, Red Drum, and including crabs, shrimp, BSB, bait fish all love Oyster reefs.

An Ecological Survey of the Coastal Region of Georgia

NPS Scientific Monograph No. 3 – A. Sydney Johnson Hilburn O. Hillestad Institute of Natural Resources University of Georgia, Athens. Sheryl Fanning Shanholtzer G. Frederick Shanholtzer Dames and Moore Crawford, New Jersey. National Park Service Scientific Monograph Number Three 1974

Reference APPENDIX VI: Locations of oyster beds and extent of polluted waters closed to oyster harvesting. Oyster beds along the coast of Georgia as mapped in 1966-67 by Thomas L. Linton for the Georgia Game and Fish Commission.

Riptide Oysters: The small business that has one man dreaming big

There’s no days off from oyster farming. I’m constantly thinking about it, my wife is constantly thinking about it – Kerian Fenelly

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