I’m excited to announce my new partnership with The Sustainable Seafood Blog Project to help promote the awareness of, and participation in sustainable seafood. For consumers, the world of seafood can be pretty complicated and conflicting. A lot of confusion swirls around what’s sustainable, what’s healthy, and what it actually is (traceability is a serious problem). Fortunately, I’m happy to report that oysters are a model representative of what sustainable seafood should be. Here’s why:
Oysters are an ocean-friendly seafood choice because they are cultivated with relatively low impact on the environment. In fact, in most cases they help improve it. More on that later! Farmed oysters also have the benefit of being very traceable. Each bag is legally required to have a tag that identifies its harvest location, harvest date, and grower and/or distributor. Lastly — and this is more of a benefit to us as consumers — is that oysters are astonishingly nutritious. They are packed with zinc and other multivitamins and minerals, making them one delicious superfood of the sea.
What Makes Farmed Oysters So Sustainable?
- Oysters do not require additional feed inputs such as fish meal from wild-capture fisheries. Instead, they filter-feed on tiny particles, plankton, and organic matter found in the water column. Therefore, oysters are self-sustaining and can actually improve local water quality.
- Oysters can be farmed without adding chemicals or antibiotics that can be harmful to the surrounding environment. Farming oysters can also reduce fishing pressure on wild oyster populations that have suffered from overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction.
- Source: New England Aquarium
Which is Better: Wild or Farmed Oysters?
According to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list, both wild and farmed oysters are relatively good options with the grand scheme of things. Some folks will tell you that wild oysters are the better way to go. They’re more “natural” and are a more desirable product. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think we’ve been conditioned to think negatively of aquaculture, and place favor on limited, wild stock. (Scarcity elevates desirability in most cases.) It is worth noting nearly 80% of the world’s wild oyster beds have been wiped out and farmed oysters account for 95% of the world’s oyster consumption. Many states are currently trying to restore wild oyster beds.
Do Wild and Farmed Oysters Taste Different?
For those who think that eating wild oysters makes them more discerning should learn a thing or two about oyster farming. If you had a wild and farmed oyster grown in the same area, they’d probably taste about the same. The farmed oyster might look prettier and have fatter meat, because it’s given the royal treatment (in terms of real estate and protection from predators). Otherwise, the culinary differences are nominal.
The real difference is the shell/reef structure. Most wild oysters grow in clusters and reefs, whereas farmed oysters are usually cultivated as individuals in cages (making them perfect for our half shell cocktail culture). Some farmed oysters are bottom-grown, but even then are separated as single shells. The coastlines of this country once teamed with billions of wild oyster reefs, which helped provide much needed habitat and coastline stability. One of the great North American oyster places was New York Harbor, which once was home to nearly 350 square miles of wild oyster reef.
Restoring Oyster Glory to New York Harbor
The Billion Oyster Project is an ambitious long-term oyster reef restoration project based in New York City that’s driven by the students and staff from the New York Harbor School on Governors Island. The goal is to restore one billion live oysters (in 100 acres) to New York Harbor over the next twenty years. The way that this is done is a lengthy and meticulous process, but it’s been elegantly captured in their handy Oyster Gardening Manual.
I got a chance to tour the school and inner harbor with Pete Malinowski (seen below shucking an oyster) and Jeremy Esposito, as well as volunteer to help make oyster cages with Sam Janis (seen below throwing saw dust on oyster shells) at the beginning of the summer. These guys, along with many other instructors, partners, and friends have been working for years to turn this dream a reality.
Best Way to Help Oyster Restoration is to Eat More Oysters!
Oysters are good for the planet, good for parties, and good for your health. What’s not to love? Help support the cause by eating more oysters. The easiest way is to eat more oysters! Just keep in mind that not all oysters are created equal. Make sure you source your oysters from a reputable purveyor or grower. Know when they were harvested and where they’re from.
Recipe for Grilled Oysters with Spicy Garlic Butter
Makes 2 dozen oysters
2 dozen large oysters shucked and left on the half shell (I used Broadwaters)
8 oz butter, at room temperature
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1. Heat up the grill to HIGH
2. Place shucked oysters on the BBQ Oyster Grill
3. Mix the butter with the garlic, hot sauce, chives and lemon/lime juice in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon or in the bowl
4. Use a small spoon and scoop a nickel-sized drop of spicy garlic butter up and place it on top of each shucked oyster
5. Place the BBQ Oyster Grill above the heat source, grill until the edges of the oysters begin to curl and bubble
6. Serve and enjoy hot!