North Carolina People, Places, and Things-January 10
I am the dad to five adult children. As they were growing up I attempted to remind them they were special and to implore them to learn something new. My goal was to do that daily.
In 2016 my goal is to learn something new daily on the people, places, and things that make North Carolina special.
On Saturday Night I got to spend some time with some real close friends at an Oyster Roast.
The members of our church in Lumberton NC have been doing this on the second Saturday in January for a number of years and I feel honored to be included.
As I shucked oysters I began to wonder just what is an oyster life cycle like? How many oysters get harvested from North Carolina? Why do oysters from different parts of the country have different flavor?
All those questions made me seek answers. Here is what I found out.
Oysters are bivalve mollusks that can live up to 40 years and grow up to eight inches; however, most N.C. oysters are harvested at three years of age, at the minimum harvest size of three inches. In the early stages of an oyster’s life, it is carried about by currents. As it matures, the oyster sinks to the bottom. To survive, the oyster must land on a hard surface. That is why they are found growing together in clumps or rocks.
There are over 200 species of oysters in the world, but only a few species are commonly used for food.
Since oysters feed by filtering the surrounding waters, the taste will vary (e.g., salty, earthy, etc.) and reflect the unique conditions of the waters in which they live and the season of harvest. For these reasons, oysters are commonly marketed with names associated with their harvest location or region. For example, in the United States along the Eastern Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico the common species Crassosteria virginica, may be sold as Wellfleet Oysters (from Cape Cod), Blue Point Oysters (from New York and Connecticut), Chesapeake Bay Oysters (from Maryland and Virginia), Apalachicola Bay Oysters (from Florida) and SW Pass Oysters (from Louisiana).
The interesting thing I learned is that oysters are not what they used to be in North Carolina. Annual oyster landings data from the late 1880s show how productive our coastal waters were for growing oysters.
By the turn of the 20th century, oysters continued to provide a lucrative fishery with nearly a million bushels harvested each year. Since the 1902 peak in landings, the oyster population has been in a steep decline due to a confluence of factors – overharvesting, degradation of oyster reef habitat and mortality caused by the introduction of nonnative disease organisms.
This oyster population decline, along with pollution-driven closures of shellfish waters, has led to harvest levels over the past 50 years remaining below 10 percent of historic highs.
We have hope in North Carolina that conservation methods may work to bring our oyster levels back up. I hope for future generations that they will get to enjoy the fellowship I enjoyed last night at an Oyster Roast.