Hollywood gorge on oysters from a once polluted bay

2014-04-07 13:51
An employee of the Hollywood Oyster company sorts and counts fresh oysters at the company farm in the waters of Chesapeake bay. (Mladen Antonov, AFP)

An employee of the Hollywood Oyster company sorts and counts fresh oysters at the company farm in the waters of Chesapeake bay. (Mladen Antonov, AFP)

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Cage after cage, oysters destined for a sprinkling of lemon juice and a delighted diner are pulled from the majestic Chesapeake Bay, where 20 years ago they had nearly disappeared.

"Those will be at the restaurants tomorrow", says Tal Petty, aged 55, an oysterman who has worked these waters for 40 years.

Today, the mollusk's re-introduction is playing a vital role in the health of the bay and Petty is quick to point out the dual ecological and gastronomical benefits.

In recent summers, Petty says, he could not see much in the water at his farm in southeastern Maryland, because of thick algae that thrived in the region's sweltering summers.

But last year "all summer long, I was able to see the bottom, which means the oysters were filtering and cleaning", he said, talking to the media at a cove near the small community of Hollywood.

High demand

The eastern oyster, or Crassostrea Virginica as it is known scientifically, was once abundant in the Chesapeake, one of the world's largest estuaries and a major US waterway.

But it nearly disappeared here at the end of the 20th century due to overfishing, disease and pollution.

Maryland and Virginia, the two states that border the Chesapeake, have in recent years launched rescue programmes, creating sanctuaries and giving subsidised loans to develop oyster farms.

Over the course of 10 years, ORP re-introduced 4.5 billion oysters, along with a recycling programme for empty shells to serve as nurseries for larvae.

Virginia saw 10 000 tons of oysters collected during the winter of 2012 to 2013, double the year before and twenty times more than 15 years ago, although it represents only 1% of what was collected in the 1950s.

Petty created his company Hollywood Oyster and left his job in finance five years ago to embark on his Chesapeake Bay venture. He never looked back.

Baseball cap on head and cell phone to the ear, Petty takes orders from wholesalers and local restaurants from his boat.

"We're growing the operation because of the demand", he says.

"Two years ago, I started a million and a half oysters, last year I started almost 3 million oysters and this year I started almost 4 million", he said.

"We are really lucky that chefs and customers love the taste profile of this cove, this is very, very good oyster water" he said, describing his oysters as having "a nutty taste with a cucumber finish".

And thanks to American consumers' growing fondness for shellfish and local products, oysters are coming back into fashion.

The Oyster bars that flourish in nearby Washington promote the local Chesapeake oyster with gusto.
Read more on:    us  |  pollution  |  marine life  |  conservation

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