Most of the Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship’s annual meeting at Heathsville Methodist Church Saturday, Feb. 22 was devoted to the oyster industry.
Richard Harding of Purcells Seafood in Burgess, Dudley Biddlecomb and Lynton Land discussed commercial oystering and oystering for private consumption. David Rowe, who conducts “eco-tours” that explain the local waters, talked about tonging oysters, an arduous job that he lets his eco-tourists try.
Harding noted that his company has been in business since 1971, and while the oyster business has seen some hard times since then, “everybody is eating them now.”
Harding said that oysters from different bodies of water have different tastes, and there are now oyster aficionados the same way there are those who compare wines and micro-brew beer. He noted that while seaside oystrer are highly salty, those his company nurtures and harvests in the Great Wicomico are “buttery.” The Chesapeake Bay “is the Napa Valley of oysters,” he said.
Harding added there are a number of ways to raise oysters but the key is having clean shells on which oyster larvae can attach themselves. But, clean shells notwithstanding, oysters grow at different rates, he said. Some are harvestable at 14 months and others take 24 months to mature. They also grow best in water from four to six feet deep.
Although the diseases that decimated oysters in recent years are past, crabs will eat oysters being raised in cages, Harding said. His company has designed cages from which the crabs can escape instead of simply sitting in the cage eating every oyster withing reach.
A real concern for commercial oystermen are the diseases that oysters can carry. In the warm months, they can harbor vibrio, a deadly bacteria. While commercial oyster businesses take measures against the malady, primarily refrigerating the caught oysters, private parties who raise oysters may not know to do that. If one person catches vibrio from a…
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